Kate Wilhelm’s Death Qualified – Review of a Legal Thriller

Nancy B. Alston

Kate Wilhelm has been writing books since 1962 and is best known for her award-winning science fiction novellas and short stories. In 1987 she launched a mystery series with a married detective duo named Constance and Charlie. Constance is a psychologist and Charlie is an ex-arson investigator. The series ends in 1999 after eight books.

Another series begins in 1991, when attorney Barbara Holloway decides to come back to Eugene, Oregon. Her father Frank convinces her to help him with a case and defend Nell Kendricks, a woman accused of killing her husband. Barbara has to contend with her old boyfriend Tony, the prosecutor and her frustration with the flaws in the justice system. Barbara thinks the whole defense rests on the experimental work that Nell’s husband was involved with during his six-year absence. That work has to do with the chaos theory and the fantasy part of the story.

I’m not a fan of fantasy, and I wasn’t sure where the book was going at times. The fantasy part seemed incongruous with the legal storytelling. What held things together for me was the romance between Barbara, the main character, and a mathematician, Mike Denesen, whom she consults to help understand the work of Nell’s husband. There is a rush at the end to solve the murder, but it left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

I may try another book in the series, since the chaos theory elements of the first book may be what made me uneasy. It was a page-turner, and I did like the psychological complexities of the characters and the detailed sense of place. The investigator that Barbara and Frank use promises to be an interesting character. I just wasn’t excited enough to make the second book a priority. Those, who like a little fantasy and appreciate that escaping reality is what reading is all about, may be more attracted to the series.

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