Kate Wilhelm - Death Qualified: A Mystery of Chaos

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Death Qualified - Sadly, this book is a perfect example of "Chaos Theory"

Jul 8, 2007 (Updated Oct 29, 2007)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The background story and the murder trial are pretty interesting.

Cons:They should have stuck with the background story and the murder trial.

The Bottom Line: With a decent story, it's a real shame that way too much time is spent on "other stuff".


I enjoy books with multiple storylines interwoven together. I also enjoy stories that involve scientific and psychological theory, especially when they're used in imaginative ways to deliver a fascinating thriller. Kate Wilhelms's Death Qualified had all of that - but way too much of all of that. As a result, it meanders all over the place, and disappoints on several levels.

This book's beginning section is actually fascinating. Because we know just by reading the back cover that Lucas Hendricks is going to be our murder victim. Rarely does a book start out in the murder victim's point of view, but that's exactly what happens here. Except that Lucas is being held against his will, medicated into practical oblivion, and hypnotized to believe he is a maintenance man named Tom. But occasionally he comes out of his fog long enough to jot down a few notes to himself and try to piece his memory together. And those are the times where we, the readers, get to know him.

But that section has to end, obviously. Sure enough, the viewpoint next changes to Nell, Lucas's estranged wife. Nell has no idea where Lucas has been for the past few years. Angered by her husband's apparent abandonment, you can imagine her surprise when Lucas appears out of the blue. But before she can even say hello, Lucas is shot dead, and Nell is considered the main suspect.

Now the viewpoint changes once again. Frank Holloway has been retained to defend Nell. But he realizes that this case is beyond his ability so he calls his daughter Barbara to help. Barbara gave up her law practice years ago, and has been at odds with her father all this time. But she agrees to work with her father, once she meets Nell.

That's the set up. The rest of this rather long book (450 pages) deals with the trial, and the defense's frustrations as the prosecution seems to be winning all the points. Part of defending Nell includes figuring how who might have had a motive to kill Lucas, thus we get to delve into the mystery surrounding his whereabouts for the past few years. As it turns out, it seems Lucas got himself involved with some scientists who believe that "Chaos Theory" could be used to manipulate young children. That's a gross oversimplification of what happened. In fact, we're given lots of details in this area. Too much detail, in fact. The level of science in this book (dealing with such topics as fractals and Mandelbrot Sets) will be off-putting to some.

But the real problem is that the trial and the background science project should have been the main focus of the book, but way too much time was spent on "other stuff".

Besides the trial, we have the tension between Barbara and her father. Way too much time and dialog is spent with Barbara "punishing" her father for past deeds, that I frankly felt should have been left in the past. Her incessant whining was so annoying! I kept mentally shouting at Barbara to "GET OVER IT ALREADY!!"

Then we have the seemingly obligatory romance. Barbara's trial work leads her to a mathematician named Mike. One of my pet peeves about books of this genre is that it seems the authors feel a romance angle is a necessity. Barbara and Mike hook up in record time. So from the first time they meet, they become "an item". You'd think Barbara would have enough to do, between trying to defend Nell, and blathering about the past with her father, now she has Mike in her life, too. Oh, by the way, the prosecuting attorney is also a former lover of Barbara's. It didn't really come into play, but I found it annoying, that once again, a romance angle is tossed in where it really wasn't necessary.


Basically, this is a decent story, but it's weighed down by too much extra baggage. Because the project that the scientists are working on is quite fascinating. In a deliciously evil way. And the murder trial kept me interested as well. And the ending was quite satisfying. But this book would have been so much better if it stuck to the main story instead of meandering all over the place. My recommendation: Skip it!



Another Kate Wilhelm/Barbara Holloway book: Desperate Measures


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