Former Charlotte Observer reporter Patricia Cornwell introduced her sleuth, medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, back in 1990 in “Postmortem.” Since then the 24 Scarpetta novels have easily sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. Cornwell, who used to summer incognito at Wrightsville Beach, even set a couple of the books in this area.
In her spare time, Cornwell also dashed off a couple of cookbooks, two non-fiction books arguing that the English painter Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper, and three other mysteries starring fictional Charlotte reporter Andy Brazil. (One of these, “Hornet’s Nest,” was shot in Wilmington as a TNT TV movie which aired in 2012; the old StarNews newsroom co-starred as the Charlotte Observer.)
Cornwell has now veered off on an entirely new track, hard toward science fiction and the world of cyber-technology. In 2019, she released “Quantum,” starring Capt. Calli Chase of the U.S. Space Force. Her latest novel, “Spin,” carries Calli’s adventures into a new dimension.
It’s fun, at least intermittently. But it’s no Kay Scarpetta.
Not even 30 yet, Calli is already a quantum physicist, ace cyber-crime investigator, NASA test pilot and aspiring astronaut. (And she thinks her twin sister, Carme, is the talented one.) In “Quantum,” Calli was investigating the explosion, under suspicious circumstances, of a rocket lifting off from the NASA pad at Wallops Island, Virginia.; a classified spy satellite was aboard. Of course, there’s murder involved — and the evidence suggests that her long-missing sister Carme is somehow involved.
The opening of “Spin” finds Calli on an icy road in rural Virginia, tracking down a lead. She winds up in an assassin’s cross hairs — and is saved only by a quick shot from Carme, who appears out of nowhere.
It all turns out to be part of a plan that may have begun even before Carme and Calli were born. Quicker than you can say “Lindsay Wagner,” Calli is drugged and dragged off to a secret NASA facility where, with minimal consent, she’s turned into the latest version of Bionic Woman 2.0.
Instead of being able to run faster than an Indy car, Calli has more software than an iPhone. Sensors are plugged all through her body. By a twitch of her finger, she can change channels on a TV set without a remote. She’s plugged into ART, a rather humorless artificial intelligence who talks inside her head, rather like Tony Stark’s JARVIS unit. And with special glasses and contact lenses, she can get more readouts than a typical video-game screen, including up-to-the-minute headlines and weather.
Plus, she gets a Tahoe chase car. In addition to the old Astin Martin features (machine guns, flame thrower, etc.), it can also morph into different colors on command and change license plates without a wrench.
Oh, and there’s a plot. It appears that the GOD Chip — the Holy Grail of quantum computing, and smaller than a dime — has been stolen by a boy genius hacker. Calli has to get to him before he can deliver the chip to Neva Rong, the diabolical aerospace tycoon, a sort of combination of Elon Musk and Cruella de Vil, who apparently caused the rocket to blow up. Neva will use the GOD Chip to take over the Internet and rule the world, which will be a bad thing.
The action eventually winds up in space, with Calli firing lasers at killer satellites.
A few problems stand in the way, though. It takes nearly a quarter of the text to explain all of Calli’s new super-powers. She is almost literally tripping over acronyms for things like PEEPS and SPIES (her super-spectacles), CUFF (her super FitBit), and PONGs (a fleet of bubble-like drones). Keeping track of all these, especially at first, takes a lot of time. In fact, it takes Calli one whole chapter to walk across a parking lot. True, it’s an icy parking lot, and the flame thrower on the chase car eventually takes care of that.
Switching to a new publisher — Thomas & Mercer, a subsidiary of Amazon — seems to have hurt Cornwell’s writing style, with Calli narrating in a weird, tech-heavy stream of consciousness. One longs for an old-fashioned editor like Maxwell Perkins to whip this manuscript into shape. Nowadays, alas, Perkins has apparently been replaced by an app.
Ben Steelman can be reached at 910-616-1788 or [email protected]
by Patricia Cornwell
Thomas & Mercer, $28.99
This is a syndicated post. Read the original post at Source link .