Cornwell, Patricia (World of Forensic Science)
6/9/1956br /> AMERICAN
Patricia Cornwell is an award-winning novelist of forensic mysteries and police procedurals that focus on medical autopsies and investigations. Her novels are characterized by the graphic authenticity of their detail and their compelling psychological studies of law enforcement and forensic professionals at work.
Cornwell has helped expand the role of the female detective in the mystery genre with her two recurring heroinesedical examiner Kay Scarpetta and police chief Judy Hammer. Her books' accurate detail is based upon research Cornwell did while a journalist working the beat in the Virginia medical examiner's office, where she witnessed scores of autopsies. Cornwell has also gone on police homicide runs. Cornwell's books regularly debut on the New York Times bestseller list and have a reputation for confronting readers with the occasional stomach-turning passage due to their graphic descriptions of dismemberment, murder, autopsies, and forensic pathology.
Cornwell was born in Miami, Florida, to Sam and Marilyn Zenner Daniels. Her parents divorced when Cornwell was five years old, and her mother moved her daughter and two sons to Montreat, North Carolina. By the time Cornwell was nine years old her mother was suffering from severe clinical depression. Unable to cope, she turned her children over to her Montreat neighbors, the Reverend and Mrs. Billy Graham. Ruth Graham put the children into foster care with a missionary couple who had recently returned from the Congo. It was Ruth Graham who encouraged young Cornwell to pursue writing. In high school Cornwell earned top grades, but pushed herself in other areas as well, battling anorexia and bulimia. She was briefly hospitalized for depression in the same facility where her mother had once stayed.
With Mrs. Graham's ongoing encouragement, Corn-well returned to school at Davidson College in North
The book was such a success, Cornwell decided to try writing crime novels with the information she had gathered as a reporter. To make her murder plots seem more believable, she engaged in in-depth research. For advice and information, she turned to the deputy medical examiner at the Virginia Morgue, pathologist Dr. Marcella Fierro. Cornwell soon became a regular visitor at the forensic center and also took on technical-writing projects for the morgue to absorb more of the forensic knowledge she craved. The result was Postmortem, the first in a series of mysteries chronicling Cornwell's fictional investigative forensic pathologist, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. Postmortem focuses on the rape and murder of several Richmond women by a serial killer.
In subsequent novels of the series, Cornwell introduces Temple Gault, a serial killer whose intelligence matched that of Scarpetta. Gault, who specializes in the murder of children, only narrowly escapes being captured by Scarpetta herself in Cornwell's 1993 novel, Cruel and Unusual. Scarpetta faces Gault again in From Potter's Field, published in 1995 and set in New York City.
In 1996, Cornwell signed a contract with publisher Penguin Putnam, reportedly in the realm of $24 million for three books. Cause of Death, which appeared in 1996, was her first for the publisher. Her impressive sales figures continued with Unnatural Exposure in 1997, Point of Origin, published in 1998, and with her new, lighter series of crime fiction featuring Andy Brazil, a young police detective with a journalism background. Hornet's Nest, Southern Cross, and Isle of Dogs belong to this second series. Cornwell has also penned a novelette centered on a holiday-season get-together, Scarpetta's Winter Table, as well as a cookbook, Food to Die For: Secrets from Kay Scarpetta's Kitchen.
Cornwell took some 13 months to research and write her nonfiction book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripperase Closed. In the book she claims to have solved the mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity, which was still unknown a century after the mysterious killer committed a series of gruesome murders in London's East End. Cornwell came to believe that the respected British Impressionist artist Walter Sickert (1860942) was the real Jack the Ripper, and her book makes the case for this theory. Sickert's artwork provides one source of evidence for Cornwell, who claims that several of Sickert's paintings of nude women resemble the Ripper's victims. She also argues that letters supposedly written by Jack the Ripper to London newspapers match Sickert's handwriting and were written on stationery owned by Sickert. Cornwell asserts that she has also identified later victims of the Ripper, victims not before linked to the infamous killer. She also used the book to take the "opportunity to push forensic science to limits that it hasn't been pushed to beforeor example, using DNA on a 114-year-old case."
SEE ALSO Autopsy; Crime scene investigation; DNA databanks; Literature, forensic science in; Medical examiner.