Cornwell is the first to say that marriage has changed her. In December 2007, she told The Telegraph UK: "I finally feel rooted somewhere. I feel a sense of responsibility and stability that I didn't have before. I hadn't been in a long-term relationship since I got divorced in 1988 and it's hard to live that way. Being with someone who is smart and gives good advice adds tremendously wonderful elements to your life."
A descendant of abolitionist and writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, Cornwell was born in Miami, Florida to Marilyn and Sam Daniels. Her father was one of the leading appellate lawyers in the United States and served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Cornwell later traced her own motivations in life to the emotional abuse she says she suffered from her father, who walked out on the family on Christmas Day 1961. She has said, "He was on his deathbed. We knew it was the last time we’d see each other; he grabbed my brother's hand and mouthed 'I love you,' but he never touched me. All he did was write on a legal pad 'How's work?'"
In 1961, Cornwell's family moved to Montreat, North Carolina, where her mother was hospitalized for depression. Cornwell and her brothers, Jim and John, were placed in the foster care system. Cornwell attended King College in Bristol, Tennessee, before transferring to Davidson College, where she graduated with a B.A. in English.
Best-selling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell with Director Cynthia Wade and Dr. Staci Gruber
Patrica Cornwell with, from left, her wife Staci Gruber, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King
In 1979, Cornwell started working as a reporter for The Charlotte Observer and soon began covering crime. Her biography of family friend Ruth Bell Graham, A Time for Remembering (renamed Ruth, A Portrait: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham in subsequent editions), was published in 1983. In 1984, she took a job at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia. She worked there for six years, first as a technical writer and then as a computer analyst. She also volunteered to work with the Richmond Police Department. Cornwell wrote three novels that she says were rejected before the publication, in 1990, of the first installment of her Scarpetta series, Postmortem.
The Scarpetta novels include a great deal of detail on forensic science. The initial resolution to the mystery is found in the forensic investigation of the murder victim's corpse, although Scarpetta does considerably more field investigation and confrontation with suspects than real-life medical examiners. The novels generally climax with action scenes in which Scarpetta and her associates confront, or are confronted by, the killer or killers, usually concluding with the death of the killer. The novels are considered to have influenced the development of popular TV series on forensics, both fictional, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and documentaries, such as Cold Case Files.
Other significant themes in the Scarpetta novels include health, individual safety and security, food, family, and the emerging sexual self-discovery of Scarpetta's niece. Often, conflicts and secret manipulations by Scarpetta's colleagues and staff are involved in the storyline and make the murder cases more complex. Although scenes from the novels take place in a variety of locations around the United States and (less commonly) internationally, they center around the city of Richmond, Virginia.
There are two remarkable style shifts in the Scarpetta novels. Starting from The Last Precinct (2000), the style changes from past tense to present tense. Starting from Blow Fly (2003), the style changes from a first person to a third person, omniscient, narrator. Events are even narrated from the viewpoint of the murderers. Before Blow Fly the events are seen through Scarpetta's eyes only, and other points of view only appear in letters that Scarpetta reads.
Cornwell shifted back to a first-person perspective in the Scarpetta novel Port Mortuary (2010).
In 1980, shortly after graduating from Davidson College in North Carolina, Patricia Daniels married one of her English professors, Charles L. Cornwell, who was 17 years her senior. Professor Cornwell later left his tenured professorship to become a preacher. In 1989, the couple separated, with Patricia retaining her married name after the divorce.
From 1991 to 1992, Cornwell was involved in an affair with Margo Bennett, a married FBI agent, after meeting her at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, where Cornwell was doing research for her Scarpetta novels. In 1996, the affair came to light after Margo Bennett's estranged husband, FBI agent Gene Bennett, was arrested for, and later convicted of, the attempted murder of his wife and the abduction of Margo's church pastor. Cornwell has denied any responsibility for the incident, describing the affair as "very brief".
Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Pocket Star; Reprint edition (December 29, 2009)
Amazon Kindle: Postmortem
With this novel, bestselling author Patricia Cornwell created one of crime fiction’s most compelling heroines: gutsy medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. Cornwell’s gift for combining cutting edge criminology with nerve-shattering suspense makes this book a true modern classic.
Under cover of night in Richmond, Virginia, a human monster strikes, leaving a gruesome trail of stranglings that has paralyzed the city. Medical examiner Kay Scarpetta suspects the worst: a deliberate campaign by a brilliant serial killer whose signature offers precious few clues. With an unerring eye, she calls on the latest advances in forensic research to unmask the madman. But this investigation will test Kay like no other, because it’s being sabotaged from within—and someone wants her dead.
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