Skip to main content

Quantum: A Captain Chase Novel

Review

Quantum: A Captain Chase Novel

Bestselling author Patricia Cornwell was still working at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia, when she published POSTMORTEM, her debut work of fiction, in 1990. That book introduced us to Dr. Kay Scarpetta and was the first novel to deeply explore the theme of forensic science in helping to solve crimes. Several awards, 24 novels and even a couple of cookbooks representing the Scarpetta series provided Cornwell with an indelible reputation as being the premier author in this genre. Many writers have followed in her footsteps, but probably Kathy Reichs is the only one who can be mentioned in the same breath as her.

Cornwell even wrote a few nonfiction books in which she confidently solved the long-standing unknown identity of Jack the Ripper. Ever since the release of her last Scarpetta entry, CHAOS, in 2016, the literary world has been waiting patiently for her next effort. A recent interview with her indicated that she may have been losing enthusiasm for the Scarpetta series and possibly was done writing serial killer novels. She always dreamed of creating a series with a protagonist who could be a “female James Bond.” The result, which is the culmination of two years of extensive research into space technology and robotics at NASA, is her long-awaited new novel, QUANTUM.

"Buckle up for a race to the finish that does not disappoint. I can proudly report that Patricia Cornwell has made a nice jump in genres and successfully blazes new literary territory."

Cornwell's female James Bond-type turns out to be Captain Calli Chase. While reading QUANTUM, I did not see the same writing style that was displayed in the Scarpetta series. Cornwell's two years of research really shows; in fact, you would think that the story was written by an aerospace veteran. The book reads like an episode of “24” as the action seems to take place in real time over the course of a day. Initially we find ourselves at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where preparations are underway for a top-secret mission that will take place in space with two of our astronauts.

Of course, since this is a Patricia Cornwell book, readers will not be surprised when things do not go as planned due to a case of possible sabotage and even an alleged murder. While we are spared the explicit forensic details of a Scarpetta novel, we are still treated to Cornwell's superior plotting skills. Our protagonist is something of a phenom, starting college at the age of 15 and being quickly catapulted into her role at NASA, where she provides expertise as an officer, quantum physicist and cybersecurity investigator. It is this latter role that will be put to use first when she is alerted to a tripped alarm deep in the tunnels beneath NASA on the eve of their space mission.

Another characteristic of Calli is how connected and a bit obsessive she is about her sister, Carme. As things begin to unfold, clues start to point Calli towards her radically different but equally brilliant twin. The potential presence of Carme hangs over the narrative, making for quite the high-octane suspense. QUANTUM reads like a mystery/thriller infused with a nice touch of espionage, and the countdown clock to the space mission lingers over each passing chapter.

What Calli and her colleague, Fran, find is a spatter of dried blood coupled with a missing security badge and a suspicious suicide. The suicide is the real mystery part of the story as the victim is the one who had her badge stolen. She was a colleague of Calli and Fran who they knew very well --- well enough to recognize that her supposed suicide is a ruse. When the badge is found underneath the top of her closed-over laptop, Calli is confident that this was a murder as part of an act of sabotage.

Throughout the novel, Calli is also in contact with Dick, a friend of the family and a high-ranking NASA and government insider who she has always considered to be a mentor. Dick is more than a little concerned by Carme being MIA while all these events are taking place deep inside NASA's borders. Meanwhile, the two astronauts are preparing for their mission completely unaware of the drama taking place back on planet Earth. And just to add another element of dread to the suspense, the area is about to be slammed by a major blizzard that essentially will confine Calli and the rest of her NASA colleagues to their workplace while the mission is moving forward.

Buckle up for a race to the finish that does not disappoint. I can proudly report that Patricia Cornwell has made a nice jump in genres and successfully blazes new literary territory. I am sure we will see a lot more of Captain Calli Chase in the future.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on October 11, 2019

Quantum: A Captain Chase Novel
by Patricia Cornwell

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
  • ISBN-10: 1542094062
  • ISBN-13: 9781542094061