“Chaos” by Patricia Cornwell has a “chaotic” plot. This book fascinatingly shows how people are losing control. In some ways technology has made lives easier, while in other ways it has taken away someone’s independence. Cornwell shows in this absorbing thriller how that can happen.
Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the Cambridge Forensic Center’s Director, is receiving anonymous poems that are on the bizarre side from a cyber bully known as Tailend Charlie. In her professional life she must find out why two people died after being struck by lightning, including her good friend General John Briggs who has also been electrified. Scarpetta starts to suspect the involvement of Carrie Grethen, her nemesis. She determines that the deaths by “acts of nature” are actually related to this cyber bully, a cunning and technically savvy predator.
An interview with the author follows below:
Elise Cooper: Since your main characters involve the police do you want to give a shout out to them?
Patricia Cornwell: Yes, and those in the military as well. As with all professional groups, there are bad and unethical people, but there are also those, for the most part, who did exactly what they should do and do a fine job. The cops I know are not like the ones in the videos. The ones I know are those who you would want showing up at your house if something terrible happened.
EC: You seem to be very supportive of those in the police?
PC: I have donated money to help the police train, because we need to help these people who keep us safe. It is a shame when any group starts being vilified to the point that the good people are worried about their safety and how those on the street will treat them. Without our police and military we are lost.
EC: Are the scenes with the police realistic?
PS: Yes. I work so very hard to tell the truth within a fictional story. I am adhering to the DNA of who those people are and what they do in society. I want to give them the credit they are due. I want to present them as human beings. There should not be generalizations from what one person does to any group: gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Stereotyping people takes away their humanity. There is way too much of this lately.
EC: One of your main characters is police detective Pete Mariano. Do he and Kay have a love/hate relationship?
PC: No, but they have some good banter going on between them. They have a contentious relationship. They might get annoyed at each other, but they are a lot more alike than they will admit. Both came out of the same poor background. Yet, she is a highly educated expert and he is a cop. A lot of my fans don’t understand why they don’t just get together or why she is not married to him instead of Benton Wesley. I just want to say that will not happen, but they are quite devoted to each other as partners.
EC: Technology plays a major role in your books?
PC: The major theme in my most recent books is that we are living in the age of technology. My more current research is moving more and more towards the sorts of technology that the military is developing. A lot of what ends up in criminal investigations begins with the military. Much is first implemented in combat. A good example is when Scarpetta uses her CT scanner. It was modeled after the one at Dover Air Force Base. The military is also using a scanning x-ray electron microscope. It can possibly determine the projectile used to kill someone in combat and who was the one responsible for making it.
EC: You seem to be very interested in this stuff?
PC: When I started I was writing solely about forensic science, but now I added in my stories the influence of technology. At the center of all of this is my main character: this woman who is a lawyer, forensic pathologist, and an expert in imaging. She has military connections since she is a special reservist for the Air Force and also works for the Department of Defense.
EC: Do you draw upon real life events?
PC: Yes. The threats that face Scarpetta are the ones that face all of us today. Someone can take a car and use it for civilian violence. Look at what happened in Paris when the car killed all those people. Someone was driving that car, but it could happen with a driver less car today.
EC: When you wrote about Scarpetta’s early life being used by a cyber bully I thought about how people’s privacy has been usurped today?
PC: Yes. We should all have privacy concerns. We have all these technical devices to worry about. I always tell people, ‘don’t put anything in writing that you might not want someone else to see.’ We should be careful what we tweet, put on Facebook, and even what we say over the phone.
EC: I thought about Wild Bill Hickok after reading this quote, “We don’t place ourselves in front of windows that make us conspicuous. We never position ourselves so that our backs are to doors.” What influenced you to write it?
PC: If you hang out with cops like I do, you see that attitude. Anytime we go somewhere it is always a big deal. When we go into a local diner I always know my back will be to the door. There is no way my cop friends will sit that way. While I worry about what sandwich I will order, they worry about watching the crowd. I want to give readers what it is like to work in this world and be these types of people.
EC: You also explore sister rivalry?
PC: Readers should think of Scarpetta as human with a family, scars, dysfunction, memories, and loses. Her only sibling, Dorothy, has always been in the shadow from day one of my books. She was going to be the homecoming queen in high school, while Scarpetta was the nerd in the science lab. In this book and going forward readers will spend some time with her. Her visit has a big connection to the plot.
EC: What about Scarpetta’s nemesis, Carrie?
PC: I don’t know where Carrie will go and want to leave things open ended. She will be in the next book, which also has an international connection to Scotland Yard and Interpol. An old case has just re-surfaced.
EC: Rumor has it your next book will be about Jack The Ripper?
PC: It will be out early next year, titled “Ripper: The Secret Life Of Walter Sickert.” This non-fiction book will be published by Amazon because it is a highly technically advanced book with the e-version having hundreds of images from my actual investigation of this case. For example, readers can compare watermarks as I talk about it or photos of the crime scene that have been enhanced with today’s technology. They have the ability to work the case with me. This is much more comprehensive than the first book written in 2002. I see this as an amazing case. I think it is the most unsolved homicide case of all time. I understand not everyone will be convinced of my theory because there are some unanswered questions. There are some things that will always be a mystery.