Sunday 29 December 2019


A Range Of Chase

by Patricia Cornwell
Thomas & Mercer ISBN: 9781542094061

She’s back... or at least one of my two literary ladies is?

My celebratory tone is because, for the first time in three years, I can resume my regular Christmas ritual... or part of it, at least. The part where I get given Patricia Cornwell’s latest Scarpetta book for Christmas and devour it within the next couple of days. This is often finished up with a second part to my Christmas ritual with another author’s book who, inexplicably, seemed to give up writing these things exactly the same year Cornwell did. Alas, her book isn’t due still until next year but then, so is the follow up to this one by Cornwell so, I’m just really happy to be reading the new Cornwell novel in my Christmas holidays once more... even though this one is not, nor probably will be for the forseeable future (if ever again), a Scarpetta mystery.

Instead, Quantum is the first entry in a series of books about a new character, Captain Calli Chase, who works for security (kind of, among other things) for NASA and who is possibly in the running for going up into space herself in a future adventure. Those who follow Cornwell on Twitter will know the amount of research that the author has done within NASA for this book and, even if you don’t lurk within her social media, you will surely know how detailed her books are so that the research that’s gone into this work is self evident.

Still, nervous as I was about going into a non-Scarpetta book by this writer... it’s not the first time she’s ventured into other characters and I don’t recall finishing off either of her other non-Scarpetta series... I’d have to say that her writing is as strong as its ever been here and, even if you’re missing Scarpetta, her voice is certainly in here because Cornwell’s writing style with her new character is pretty damn near to her former literary avatar.

I’ve said that detecting the same speech patterns etc within different characters in a book is a huge turn off in terms of buying into the world that a writer has created but, here, I think Cornwell gets away with it extremely well. We can hear Cornwell’s confidence and way of expressing things in her new main character, for sure. Especially since the books are written like the majority (not quite all) of the Scarpetta novels... in first person. However, there are some quirks to this character and her identical twin sister which also make this a vastly different read, in some ways, to her regular character’s work.

Also, like quite a few of her later novels in the Scarpetta series, time is compressed into quite a small period, taking place within the space of just over 24 hours in early December 2019. The plot is of an important upcoming installation of a top secret Quantum device in space, although the title also, I believe, refers metaphorically to the entanglements of personalities and shared traits of identical twins. However, deadly coincidences pointing to the sabotage of NASA’s plans are landing quite forcefully in Chase’s lap and everything she hears as her day gets worse, keeps landing back home with the possibility of her twin sister being more than just a little heavily implicated in the trail of corpses and security threats leading back to the base.

Die hard fans of Scarpetta needn’t worry too much about straying into radically different territory here. A large section of the book deals with working a murder scene, just as it probably would in one of Cornwell’s other novels and you certainly don’t get the impression she’s writing about anything she doesn’t know... it’s all very detailed. Also, that headlong dash towards the ending you often get with her work these days is clearly present, as things escalate very quickly within the last forty or so pages of the book, as NASA are counting down to the important installation in outer space.

So, yeah, a typical Cornwell style which, in my book, makes her probably one of the foremost writers of what I, not disparagingly, would call the modern pulp novel. She’s in good company and probably the absolute master... mistress?... of 21st Century mystery fiction and this first Chase story certainly demonstrates why she should be considered so.

I did have one huge problem within the first three pages, to be honest, when Captain Chase assumes the name of a connecting, underground tunnel beneath NASA, which is called Yellow Submarine, must have been so named so sometime after 1968, when the song came out. Frankly, I’m surprised both the character and Cornwell don’t realise the song dates from 1966 (when it was featured in the Revolver album... my personal favourite album by The Beatles) and so, yeah, the timeline established there is out slightly.... not that it matters or has any bearing on the rest of the novel. Actually, with things like this and the introduction of a ‘drive’ being named after Penny Lane, there is one way where this novel differs hugely from the Scarpetta series and that is with the abundance of modern pop culture references scattered throughout and peppered into Chase’s dialogue with the reader. We have little nods to Avengers - Infinity War, Mr. Spock and one of the characters has a Spider-Man ring tone on her phone. Heck, she even includes a paragraph on the murder of the immensely talented young actress and director Adrienne Shelly at one point... which made me both happy and sad at the same time, to be honest.

Now this is a first book for the characters so, yeah, the reader doesn’t have the usual pleasure of greeting previous regular characters in the series and smiling at their antics and, of course, worrying if they’re all going to make it through the pages alive at the end. So that’s something this book doesn’t have but... it does start to set up new characters for the future so, obviously, those pleasures are best waited for as the series gets written.

There is one character, for instance, who is only mentioned and never really glimpsed in the flesh... and mentioned a lot, believe me... so I can’t wait to meet this person in a later novel. And, frankly, since its all set in the same world of... well... what I call the ‘shady world of high level law enforcement and security’... then it’s almost certain, I think, that Scarpetta and, quite probably, her niece Lucy, will cross paths with Captain Chase at some point in the near future, once the series has been established.

So yeah, finally a non-Scarpetta novel by Patricia Cornwell that I really liked and, while I suspect the content and the writing style are deliberately cushioning the readers to the way these books might progress, I think it’s all pretty great and frankly, when a writer includes such poetic prose as “the half page filled with her handwriting, tiny and flattened as if the words are too shy to raise their hands in class”, then you know you are in the hands of an absolute artist. Which of course, Patricia Cornwell is. So, yeah, Quantum gets a huge recommendation from me and, if you’re worried a new character may be a little too jarring after sticking with the Scarpetta character for so many decades... I’d say you don’t need to worry about that. This is an almost typical Cornwell book and, therefore, does what all you Scarpetta junkies need it to do. So get on it.

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