Death Qualified by Kate Wilhelm

I listened to the audio version of this, read by Anna Fields.  I chose it because I had enjoyed one of Wilhelm’s standalones The Deepest Water and wanted to give this series a shot. I was not disappointed, at the same time it wasn’t what I expected.

Five years ago Barbara Holloway gave up practicing law, disillusioned with a profession that put politics before justice. Then she receives a phone call from her father, with a simple message: “I need you.” Her father, a lawyer himself, has been asked by a neighbor Nell Kendricks to defend her. Nell is accused of killing her husband Lucas, who she hadn’t seen for seven years, until the day he arrives at the edge of her property and is shot, instantly killed. Despite her vow, Barbara finds herself drawn to the case.

It’s not a simple courtroom drama though. It’s a mystery, who actually killed Lucas and why. It also has an almost science fiction aspect. While researching Lucas’s history, Barbara finds that he was involved in an experiment involving treating young men as guinea pigs, attempting to use chaos theory to change the observer’s perception of the universe. The theory and experiments are out there, leaving the participant somewhere between enlightenment and flat-out craziness.

The characters are well done, each with strengths and weaknesses, longings and disappointments. My favorite character was actually a mathematician who Barbara meets while researching chaos theory. I found his explanations of the theory, fractals and the Mandelbrot Set fascinating. It’s a shame he doesn’t make it to the next book.

Barbara I wasn’t a big fan of at first, although she did grow on me. She just preached too much about the inequality of the judicial system – I get it, move on. Also, her relationship with the mathematician developed too quickly in my opinion. She seemed a woman who was very cautious about opening herself up to people, but this time she jumped in immediately head first, feeling like she had known him forever. Not a plot line I like in a romance, let alone a mystery. But for all that, she was passionate and caring, which is why I’ll probably continue with the series.

A note on the setting. I loved Wilhelm’s descriptions of the river and woods that form a backdrop for the story. I can’t remember any specific quotes right now, but through her words you can hear outdoor sounds or silence, see the colors and patterns, feel your feet sinking in the mud.

And the ending. I’m not going to give-away the whodunnit, but I for one didn’t see it coming until Barbara starting questioning this individual’s story. I’m still not quite clear on the motive though. I guess the final scenes were a bit of a let-down for me.

Re-reading my comments, it doesn’t sound like I enjoyed the basic story much, but I did. It had a lot of  layers that weaved in and out of, keeping me engaged in the story, wanting to see where it was going to lead.

First published in 1991
Barbara Holloway #1

15 hours, 20 minutes

Challenges: 100+, Thriller and Suspense

I borrowed my copy from the library and the above is my honest opinion. I am an Amazon associate.


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