When I first spoke with Patricia Cornwell last year, I was stuck by both her intelligence and thoughtfulness. The author of the world’s number one selling crime series featuring forensic pathologist, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Cornwell is not only articulate when describing the work involved in keeping her acclaimed series fresh and relevant. She is also keenly aware of the importance of her role as an out celebrity. We recently caught up with Cornwell again to discuss her new book, Port Mortuary, the 18th novel in the series, the Scarpetta film and how being gay influences her work.
AfterEllen.com: Port Mortuary reveals a surprising secret from Scarpetta’s past and brings her into new territory with the US government. Without spoiling it for the reader, can you talk about what inspired the novel?
When I decided to do research on that, I realized I wanted Scarpetta to have a secret affiliation with the Department of Defense, and although it’s not always been active for the twenty years that we’ve known her, I needed a good explanation for why she had never discussed it with anyone. This prompted me to think, you know, we don’t really know that much about her prior to her Post Mortem days. Other than some rare brushes where I talk about things from her childhood, I’ve never really dug into who she is and who she was and how she actually got to be the Chief Medical Examiner of a sophisticated system like the Virginia system when she was quite young and new at being a forensic pathologists.
That’s when I realized that there’s something she’s not telling us, which led me into this very dark case that she had in South Africa. It was fun to take the reader on an almost subterranean journey where you’re not only exploring scary things that are happening to her now, but going back into something that is even scarier, something she feels shame about and feels it’s been unresolved.
AE: Were you surprised when you learned or figured out Scarpetta’s secret?