Patricia Cornwell Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Patricia Cornwell’s first work of detective fiction, Postmortem (1990), is the only novel to win five prestigious awards in the same year: the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, the John Creasey Award from the Crime Writers’ Association, the Anthony Award sponsored by Bouchercon, World Mystery Convention, and the Macavity Award from Mystery Readers International, all for best debut crime novel, and the French Prix du Roman d’Aventure. The book stood out because of its protagonist as well as its approach of using forensics to solve a crime. Dr. Kay Scarpetta is a tough yet vulnerable female medical examiner. In 1999, the character of Scarpetta won the Sherlock Award for the best fictional detective created by an American author. Although Scarpetta comes into contact with suspects more often and more closely than real-life medical examiners actually do, crimes are solved in Scarpetta’s mind and on her autopsy table. As she examines the victims’ bodies, she gathers clues to help identify the killers. This approach was noteworthy because of Cornwell’s precise descriptions of actual forensic methods, descriptions that unfold with textbook accuracy and length, before such approaches were popularized by television crime dramas such as CSI, which began in 2000. Her fourth Scarpetta mystery, Cruel and Unusual (1993), won the Golden Dagger Award of the Crime Writers’ Association.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Beahm, George. The Unofficial Patricia Cornwell Companion. New York: St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2002. Detailed look at Cornwell’s life and each of her books. Useful for excerpts of book reviews of each title and a glossary of terms, characters, and places mentioned in each book.

Cornwell, Patricia. Patricia Cornwell: The Official Website. Author’s official Web site contains information about Cornwell’s life and works.

Cornwell, Patricia. “Patricia D. Cornwell: Life Imitates Art in the Career of Mystery/Thriller Author.” Interview by J. Tangorra and S. Steinberg. Publishers Weekly 238, no. 9 (February 15, 1991): 71-73. The first published interview with Cornwell. Discusses her life and how she came to write and publish Postmortem.

Dubose, Martha Hailey, with Margaret Caldwell Thomas. Women of Mystery: The Lives and Works of Notable Women Crime Novelists. New York: St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2000. Biographies of various authors with an overview and analysis of their works. Essay on Cornwell notes her colorful personal life, which involves lawsuits and spectacular incidents of publicity.

Herbert, Rosemary. The Fatal Art of Entertainment: Interviews with Mystery Writers. New York: G. K. Hall, 1994. In the interview with Cornwell, she states that she never read mysteries and when she started to write, she just intended to write a novel, but found violence inescapable.

Lucas, Rose. “Anxiety and Its Antidotes: Patricia Cornwell and the Forensic Body.” Literature Interpretation Theory 15, no. 2 (April/June, 2004): 207-222. Literary criticism that focuses on how Cornwell conforms to and deviates from the conventions of the hard-boiled detective story via her use of the victims’ bodies as objects of murder and evidence.

Passero, Kathy. “Stranger than Fiction: The True Life Drama of Patricia Cornwell.” Biography 2, no. 5 (May, 1998): 66-71. Discussion of highly publicized incidents in Cornwell’s life. Includes a chart of the number of weeks each of the first eight Scarpetta novels was on The New York Times best-seller list.

Reynolds, Moira Davison. Women Authors of Detective Series: Twenty-one American and British Authors, 1900-2000. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. Examines the life and work of major female mystery writers, including Cornwell.