VJ Books Blog

(metrobostonnews.com, Dec. 9, Dorothy Robinson)

Patricia Cornwell on 20 years of her fictitious crime fighter

Before there was “Bones” “Dr. G: Medical Examiner,” “Dexter,” “Forensic Files,” “CSI,” and the many, many other TV shows revolving around forensics, there was Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta — the heroine of numerous best-selling books by crime writer Patricia Cornwell.

“I’m my own worst enemy,” Cornwell says from her penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. “I have helped to start this forensic thriller genre, which has spawned this incredible industry, but at times I wonder if it’s going to put me out of business.”

Even though Scarpetta has been a fixture in the contemporary suspense genre for 20 years — way before Horatio Caine was even a twinkle in David Caruso’s eye — Scarpetta is far from going out of  business.

“She’s the best thing I’ve got,” Cornwell admits in her faint Southern drawl, a leftover from her time at Davidson College and her stint at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia. “What do I have that no one else does? Her. I have her. Nobody else has this character and if I deserve her or not, I have her. And she depends on me to write about her because she knows I have nothing better to do.”

That’s why Cornwell decided to name her 16th book in the Scarpetta series after her heroine. In “Scarpetta” (Putnam, $28), Kay takes up an assignment in New York City where she must help solve a strange and gruesome murder where the lead suspect is a man with achondroplasia (dwarfism). The work features many of Cornwell’s writerly traits — cutting- edge technology, intersecting plotlines, and, of course, medical mysteries.

But it is always Scarpetta who features most prominently — both in Cornwell’s books and in her mind.

“She is very real to me and she is always with me. But she is not me,” she clarifies. “She’s a mentally, intellectually disciplined person. She doesn’t have a DUI or a mood disorder or all of the things that I’ve got. She says the right thing and does the right thing.”
Cornwell pauses, then laughs. “But I’m probably more fun at a party.”