Today’s author interview guest is the one and only Patricia Cornwell who drops by to talk about the new Kay Scapetta novel Autopsy.
Forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta has come almost full circle, returning to Virginia as the chief medical examiner, the state where she launched her storied career. Finding herself the new girl in town once again after being away for many years, she’s inherited not only an overbearing secretary, but also a legacy of neglect and potential corruption.
She and her husband Benton Wesley, now a forensic psychologist with the U.S. Secret Service, have relocated to Old Town Alexandria where she’s headquartered five miles from the Pentagon in a post-pandemic world that’s been torn by civil and political unrest. Just weeks on the job, she’s called to a scene by railroad tracks where a woman’s body has been shockingly displayed, her throat cut down to the spine, and as Scarpetta begins to follow the trail, it leads unnervingly close to her own historic neighborhood.
At the same time, a catastrophe occurs in a top-secret laboratory in outer space, endangering at least two scientists aboard. Appointed to the highly classified Doomsday Commission that specializes in sensitive national security cases, Scarpetta is summoned to the White House and tasked with finding out exactly what happened. But even as she works the first potential crime scene in space remotely, an apparent serial killer strikes again very close to home.
Patricia Cornwell has sold over 100 million books. She sold her first novel, Postmortem, while working as a computer analyst at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia. Postmortem, was the first bona fide forensic thriller. It paved the way for an explosion of entertainment featuring in all things forensic across film, television and literature.
The transition to literary superstar was not easy. At her first signing, held during a lunch break from the morgue, Patricia sold no copies of Postmortem and fielded exactly one question – an elderly woman asked her where she could find the cookbooks
Postmortem would go on to win the Edgar, Creasey, Anthony, and Macavity awards as well as the French Prix du Roman d’Aventure prize – the first book ever to claim all these distinctions in a single year. To date, Cornwell’s books have sold some 100 million copies in thirty-six languages in over 120 countries. She’s authored twenty-nine New York Times bestsellers.
Patricia’s novels center primarily on medical examiner Kay Scarpetta along with her tech-savvy niece Lucy and fellow investigator Pete Marino. Celebrating 25 years, these characters have grown into an international phenomenon, winning Cornwell the Sherlock Award for best detective created by an American author, the Gold Dagger Award, the RBA Thriller Award, and the Medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for her contributions to literary and artistic development.
Patricia’s literary career expands outside the realm of the Kay Scarpetta series – she’s authored a definitive account of Jack the Ripper’s identity, two cookbooks (Food to Die For and Scarpetta’s Winter Table), a children’s book (Life’s Little Fable), and a biography of Ruth Graham. She’s also developed two other series based on Win Garano, an upstart Boston detective, and Andy Brazil, an enterprising Charlotte reporter.
Though Cornwell now lives in Boston, she was born in Miami and grew up in Montreat, North Carolina. After earning her degree in English from Davidson College in 1979, she began working at the Charlotte Observer, taking whatever stories came her way and rapidly advancing from listing television programs to covering the police beat. Cornwell received widespread attention and praise for her series of articles on prostitution and crime in downtown Charlotte. From the Charlotte Observer, Cornwell moved to a job with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia – a post she would later bestow upon the fictional Kay Scarpetta. It was during these years that Patricia penned Postmortem and began submitting it to major publishing houses in New York, without initial success.
When not writing from her Boston home, Patricia tirelessly researches cutting-edge forensic technologies to include in her work. Her interests span outside the literary: Patricia co-founded of the Conservation Scientist Chair at the Harvard University Art Museums. She appears as a forensic consultant on CNN and serves as a member of Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital’s National Council, where she advocates for psychiatric research. She’s helped fund the ICU at Cornell’s Animal Hospital, the scientific study of a Confederate submarine, the archaeological excavation of Jamestown, and a variety of law enforcement charities. Patricia is also committed to funding scholarships and literacy programs. Her advice to aspiring authors: “Start writing. And don’t take no for an answer.”