Spin (Captain Chase #2), by Patricia Cornwell

Seven stars

Master storyteller Patricia Cornwell is back with the second book in her Captain Chase series. Pulling the reader into the middle of a cyber-tech thriller, Cornwell uses the exciting world of space and the threat to NASA as a whole to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Building on the momentum from the opening novel in the series, Quantum, Cornwell utilises her masterful way of developing a plot to make Spin a novel that is a must-read for those who love her style.

A member of the US Space Force, Captain Calli Chase is following up on a lead involving a murder at a NASA testing facility. Trapping in the middle of a snowstorm, Chase finds herself feeling testy and significantly on edge when she is targeted by a potential killer and saved only when her twin sister, Carme, appears out of nowhere.

Before Calli knows what’s going on, she’s drugged and whisked away to a facility, where she is given more upgrades that she knows how to process. Emerging as a sort of Bionic Woman, Captain Chase is now armed and ready to work at new levels, as she seeks to assemble all the pieces to help her crack the case wide open.

With everything literally at her fingertips, Calli is tasked with locating a young boy who has hacked into NASA and procured a special computer chip, one that could have significant consequences if it falls into the wrong hands. While the lad denies being guilty of anything, the jury is still out. With this chip, control of the internet and other significant technologies could be changed forever. Calli learns that one woman, Neva Rong, has sinister plans when she gets her hands on the chip and will stop at nothing to get it.

As tensions mount, Chase will have to protect the boy and try not to show her cards before it’s time. Rong’s power has already been seen, as she is likely the culprit behind the murder at the NASA facility. Rong’s power in the aerospace world and connections all the way up the political ladder makes her even more deadly, while Chase seeks to reveal all before it’s too late.

There is no doubt that Patricia Cornwell did extensive research for this book, having proven that she understands the topic throughout both novels. She is also not one to slowly offer what she knows, for spoonfeeding has never been what she does best. That said, it is also not presented in a condescending manner. Rather, space becomes exciting in this tech-thriller, for those who have a penchant for all things scientific.

Calli Chase is a likeable character, or so it would seem. She is on point when it comes to her navigation throughout the book and she handles much of what is tossed before her. While she wrestles to understand how she fits into the larger picture, Calli does well to dodge the major issues that occur throughout this piece. The reader will find her learning much about herself, as well as a past she did not know existed.

Cornwell does well to develop a number of other characters throughout the piece, keeping them all complementary of Captain Chase, but never putting the protagonist on too high a pedestal. Cornwell develops her characters to entice the reader, contrasting well with one another at various points. The reader can learn much about the story and Captain Chase through those who cross her path throughout this piece.

While many have come to know Patricia Cornwell for her Kay Scarpetta character, this is far from that domain. While both women thrive on action, Captain Calli Chase is nothing like literary predecessor. Cornwell has taken things in a significantly different direction here and thrives on making waves in a new and exciting domain. Some will love it and others will likely find it too ‘techy’ for their liking. The writing is comprehensive and the plot is somewhat easy to decipher. However, if the reader’s interest is not space, technology, or artificial intelligence, this book may implode before the plot is able to capture their attention. With mid-length chapters, Cornwell develops her story well and tries to keep things on the level, but it missed the mark for me, in that I could not find myself wholly invested. I enjoyed parts of it, but felt out of my element in others. Still, it was a decent effort, even if it’s not entirely my sort of book.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for a great leap away from the type of writing I have come to expect from you. While it did not engage me as much, I hope you find many fans and keep your readers guessing where things are headed next.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Quantum (Captain Chase #1), by Patricia Cornwell

Seven stars

After a hiatus from her successful forensic series, Patricia Cornwell returns with a novel that will have readers reaching for the stars in the middle of this impactful crime thriller. Captain Callisto ‘Calli’ Chase gave up a promising career in the military to help her family. She was able to land on her feet, serving within the NASA police in Virginia. While out investigating an alarm within the facility, Callie comes across some forensic material that leaves her baffled. When one of NASA’s scientific contractors is found dead in her room from an apparent suicide, Calli takes notice. What starts out looking like a simple cry for help does not make sense, the more pieces come together. The note left for others to find, the state of the body, even the last meal laid out on the table. It all points to something that’s been staged. While she is trying to juggle her workplace situation, Calli is brought up to speed that her twin sister, Carme, is wanted for questioning in the disappearance of a man she was seen to have had words with not too long before. Unable to locate Carme, Calli struggles as she remembers the key event in their past that drove a wedge between them as twins and sisters. While Calli is certain there is a killer on the loose within the NASA facility, she must remain calm and do all she can in order not to show her hand, while inside the terror mounts. An interesting return by Cornwell with an entirely new concept. While many did not enjoy this novel, the concept grew on me by the end and I am ready to recommend it to those who enjoy something scientific alongside their crime thrillers.

I have long been a fan of Cornwell and her Scarpetta series. While those novels did begin to lag after a time, I could see a great deal of effort went into their creation. When I heard that Cornwell was going to try her hand at something new, I was a little surprised, as Scarpetta was not yet tied off. This space-themed crime thriller novel has all the ingredients for the author to reinvent herself, with a curious cast of characters and a great deal of research having gone into the narrative. Calli Chase proves to be an worthwhile character and serves well in the role of protagonist. Her strong belief in the law and order resonated with me, as did her mathematical quirks that surface throughout the novel. However, there were times that I felt a significant disconnect. I am not sure what it is, as I do not remember having this issue with Kay Scarpetta, but realise that it may take me some time to connect properly with Calli. Her backstory and character development were both present throughout, offering some early tidbit on which Cornwell can build. I hope for more reveals to ensure Callisto Chase is not just another character whose unique name is the sole reason she stands out. Other characters grace the pages of this book and prove to be entertaining, though they also proved to be lukewarm at times. The multiple plots are strong and the ideas are there, but the delivery though the characters was significantly lacking. As a story, there was a great deal of potential here, though things fell flat early. I scanned Goodreads and noticed others felt the same way. Thankfully I held on, as things did get better and I was able to feel confident in finishing this piece. Such class and past success as an author should not deter Patricia Cornwell, though I would hope that this is just a rut and not the new face of a talented writer I have enjoyed for a long time.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for trying something new. Not sure if it worked, though some of my other favourites are stumbling these days. Perhaps it is just a phase.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert, by Patricia Cornwell

Eight stars

Biographies come in all shapes and sizes, as has been exemplified throughout my binge over these past few months. Patricia Cornwell’s re-release of this biographical piece about Jack the Ripper offers not only a view into the horrible crimes that were committed in London’s East End, but also posits that Walter Sickert is the most likely suspect, providing ample proof. Cornwell offers a strong biographical sketch of both Sickert and the killings, while extrapolating the killing spree outside of the known five prostitutes. She pushes hard to substantiate her argument and uses some biographical data to show how Sickert cannot be discounted as one of the most likely suspects, even though he was a respected artist. Wonderfully detailed and presented in such a way that a novice such as myself could easily follow, Cornwell is sure to garner more interest in this updated version of this non-fiction book, though doubters and trolls are sure to remain active.

Jack the Ripper is arguably one of the most elusive and notorious serial killers of modern time. While the Ripper’s crimes hit London by storm in 1888, the inability to catch the killer soon brought the crimes to international prominence. That no killer has been found almost 130 years later offers an added level of mystery. Cornwell provides some backstory as it relates to Sickert in the early chapters, hinting at his troubled childhood marred with an apparently horrific penile deformity that required numerous invasive (and destructive) surgeries. This early ‘maiming’ might have fuelled his desire to exact revenge on those within the sex trade who were most vulnerable. Soon thereafter, Cornwell presents the murders of five female prostitutes and suggests a likely narrative, based on the police reports and media depictions. With what is known about the aforementioned deformities, the reader is left to choose which path they choose to take. Could Sickert have chosen these early women to exemplify that he was still virile or turned to those who would not necessarily judge him, as long as he had the money to pay? Cornwell also explores Sickert’s roaming nature, as he followed a path all his own, both to fulfil his artistic abilities and his interest in some of the stage work that he undertook. From there, she is able to provide the reader with some possibilities surrounding Walter Sickert’s involvement, based on his known location at the time. There were scores of mocking letters received by the police and newspapers attributed to the Ripper, allowing Cornwell to posit that Sickert may have posted these letters while he was touring with a troupe or had numerous letters sent from different destinations to dilute his guilt. Cornwell uses some of Sickert’s own personal correspondence to match up with the anonymous letters sent by the Ripper, as well as some of the other pseudonyms used by both the Ripper and Sickert. Of greatest interest to the reader might be that Cornwell is convinced that Met Police focussed only on the five prostitutes, which was likely only a small snapshot of the murder spree undertaken by Jack the Ripper. Cornwell offers up some proof, pairing murders into the 20th century with both Sickert geographic pairings or hints of the murders within Sickert’s own artwork. Sickert’s fame within the English art world proved strong as he was known to have taught a young Winston Churchill. While nothing is definitive, Cornwell provides readers with a strong case, admitting that she is focussed on a single suspect, for Walter Sickert’s guilt. All those involved are long dead and names have all but disappeared in the ether, though Cornwell, like the popular protagonist in her long-running series, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, seeks to bring the families some peace of mind. A well-researched and compelling book, those with an interest in Jack the Ripper may find it highly informative and entertaining in equal measure.

I will admit that I am not well-versed in the crimes of Jack the Ripper, so I came into this piece seeking information and to be persuaded over trying to dissect the arguments made. Cornwell does a wonderful job in laying the groundwork for Walter Sickert being Jack the Ripper, as well as showing that the killing spree was monumental, through it is impossible to offer up any confirmed tally. Cornwell juggles two biographies here while also trying to lay out a criminal argument, doing so effectively. She offered both a biography of Sickert and a history of the crimes, superimposing them to show that motive and opportunity presented themselves. Cornwell’s approach was, in my mind, less an attack than a collection of facts to strengthen her argument, which she openly admits not wanting to do. While she was attacked after the original version of this book for destruction of expensive artwork to prove her point, Cornwell tries to rebut those sentiments and assures the reader of her forensic approach to crime work. The latter portion of the book spends much time debunking the rumours that surfaced during her work and from the original edition. With haphazard attention paid to crime scenes at the time, Cornwell is stuck using the limited narratives offered at the time and can only explore some of the papers and pieces of art leftover now to push for Sickert’s guilt. Splices of DNA and analysis of paper could prove impossible to substantiate without ruining the original documents, thereby nullifying any further exploration on the subject. The reader is treated to strong arguments based in fact and will leave this book with a stronger knowledge of Jack the Ripper, Walter Sickert, and East-End London. A perfect addition for those who love true crime in an era where even Sherlock Holmes would likely have struggled to come up with a convincing suspect.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell for this compelling piece. While I am so used to your Scarpetta work, this was a refreshing look into your non-fiction mind. I am highly impressed and can only hope your search for justice is far from over.