Patricia Cornwell resurrects beloved Kay Scarpetta for ‘Autopsy’

Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell poses in this undated handout photo
FILE PHOTO: Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell poses in this undated handout photo. Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers/Patrick Ecclesine/Handout via REUTERS

November 30, 2021

By Mindy Burrows

(Reuters) – Best-selling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell thought she was done with writing books for good, until the coronavirus pandemic struck and with it, inspiration for a new novel featuring the U.S. author’s much-loved character, medical examiner Kay Scarpetta.

    “Autopsy”, published on Tuesday, is Cornwell’s 25th Scarpetta novel, a series she started in 1990 with “Postmortem”.

    Cornwell believed she had finished Scarpetta’s story with 2016’s “Chaos” but when the world went into lockdown last year, she began to wonder what the fictional forensic pathologist would make of it all.

    “I started thinking, what would Scarpetta say about all this? What would she do with this universe we live in now? …Because it’s not the same one that it was when I quit doing this five years ago,” the author said.

    “Autopsy” takes Scarpetta back to where she started – Virginia – where she works as chief medical examiner and is confronted with a grueling murder case and a potential crime in outer space, a situation that Cornwell thoroughly researched.

    “The way I describe it is absolutely accurate. I have an astronaut who lived up on the space station and I worked with him on talking about what fluids do up there. How would you handle this? I mean, how does NASA deal?” she said.

    Cornwell’s research took her to places most people would never get to visit, including the Secret Service headquarters in Washington and the White House.

    Despite having thought she was done with writing, Cornwell said she is already penning Scarpetta’s next story, a tough murder trial.

    “She’s taken five years away and it’s like she sent me back to graduate school. She said, ‘You know what? Go hang out at NASA. Go hang out with smart people. Go learn something new. You’re driving me nuts’.”

(Reporting by Mindy Burrows; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)