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Bestselling crime writer Patricia Cornwell and her new book “Red Mist.”

Best selling crime author Patricia Cornwell poses in her home in New York in this Oct. 27, 2005, file photo. (AP)
Best selling crime author Patricia Cornwell poses in her home in New York in this Oct. 27, 2005, file photo. (AP)

Super bestselling crime writer Patricia Cornwell is a giant of the genre.  She practically invented a huge wing of it – the forensic crime drama with scalpels and x-rays and blood work and murder, with women in the lead.

Her super forensic crime buster Kay Scarpetta – tough, brilliant, unphased by gore – looks like the ur-model for half of television lately:  Body of Evidence, the CSI franchise, and a whole lot more.  Cornwell’s own story rivals her fiction for dramatic crackle.  Big money, bodyguards, love triangle, guns.

This hour, On Point: Patricia Cornwell and her latest – Red Mist.
-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Patricia Cornwell, author of 29 books. You can find an excerpt of her latest, Red Mist, here.

Highlights

Crime writer Patricia Cornwell’s life has been almost as compelling as her heroine, Kay Scarpetta. Cornwell flies a helicopter to focus her mind. She rarely knows how one of her books will end until she’s nearly finished writing it. And she once posted snipers to the roof a building near to where she was giving a book signing.

Writing the Scarpetta series, starring the tough and resourceful medical examiner, has meant lost of research at places like the FBI’s Body Farm, an in various crime labs. “I’ve seen so much death that I don’t believe it anymore. I’ve seen bodies where the energy is so clearly gone and it was there hours earlier,” she said. “I know it’s gone somewhere.”

Over the years, Cornwell said that she has come to a new understanding of her subject. “My personal understanding of death is that it is not about the body dying,” Cornwell said. “That’s the vehicle we get around in and when that goes, of course, it is sad. And I don’t look forward to it and I don’t look forward to losing anyone. But I don’t believe what makes us who we are vanishes with death.”

“I think there’s a continuum. I don’t think we began at birth and end at death. I think that somehow we’re part of something eternal and it’s almost more of a circle. And I think there’s a lot we don’t understand about it,” said Cornwell. “We try to frame it in traditional religions, but it defies what our finite mind can comprehend. I have a huge faith that this is not all there is. If I thought it were, it would be like, why bother?”

From Tom's Reading List

ABC News "Best-selling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell learned to fly helicopters, analyze blood splatters and reconstruct complex crime scenes all for the sake of her famed heroine Dr. Kay Scarpetta."

Toronto Star "In the increasingly competitive crime fiction jungle, coming up with new kinds of grisly exotica, and villains with more confoundingly brutal modi operandi, is apparently crucial to literary ascendancy."

Irish Independent "Before she became a bestselling author Cornwell had a background in journalism, but she did spend from 1984 to 1990 working as a technical writer at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia. And her heroine Scarpetta is a forensic pathologist."

This program aired on December 8, 2011.

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