Patricia Cornwell talks “Port Mortuary,” secrets and Jolie

AE: You return to the first person point of view in Port Mortuary. Why and how did you make that decision?

PC: When I was researching and trying to figure out what it is she’s kept from us all of these years and why, I thought, this is getting deep. You [Scarpetta] need to tell this story in your own voice. We need to let you tell it in your own timing and in your own way. I handed the baton back to her. At first I felt like a fish out of water. I hadn’t written in her voice in ten years and it took me a while to get used to it, but then it picked up a tremendous amount of energy. She told it in her own way. I’ve started the next one doing the same thing. Right now that’s what I want to do.

AE: The intimate point of view also reflects Scarpetta’s insular perspective in the book. She is suspicious of the other characters, including those in her personal circle, like Benton and Lucy.
PC: She’s not always sure who to trust in her circle. These are people who all have secrets — even Benton, her husband. The two of them are like two secret agents or spies. They have more “non conversations” than anyone you’ll ever meet. They exchange information without directly telling each other what it is they’re trying to say because there are things they can’t discuss. With their law enforcement and criminalist ties, they have to be very careful with what they communicate to each other and yet communicate in a way where they maintain their bond.

[In Port Mortuary] Scarpetta’s been away for six months of training. I think it’s typical for people who’ve been consumed by something and living on site — very much like our troops who are off at war — when you come back you have to feel the edges of everything to see how things have changed. You have to see if you’re still safe in that environment because relationships can change. In her case, she comes home and she doesn’t know whom to trust because all hell’s breaking lose.

AE: One of the more interesting and terrifying aspects of Port Mortuary is that it shows that while forensic science continues to advance, so do the weapons that are used in the crimes that are investigated. Was that something you thought about?
PC: When I was doing research with the Armed Forces Medical Examiners, one of their seasoned investigators said, “Come with me. I want to show you a weapon I’m really worried about.” He took me down into this area and pulled out this “thing,” which I don’t want to talk about because it will spoil it for people, but he showed me this particular weapon, which is available on the Internet. He said, “This is a true horror.” I had a police friend of mine order it and we experimented with it. I’m very familiar with what it sounds like, looks like, and what it does. Then I got a Medical Examiner friend of mine to create an autopsy report that would reflect what a weapon like this would really do. There is no case that you can model it after because so far, as we know, it hasn’t been used on a person and I certainly hope it never is. But this is the world that we live in now. Just look at the Wikileaks. Because of the Internet, there’s so much that’s available to people and a lot of it, quite frankly, they shouldn’t have access to.

AE: With everything that you learn and see through your research, I don’t know how you sleep at night.
PC: You would think so. I’m very aware of the bad things that could happen to people. I can look at any scenario and see the worst case, but I don’t walk around thinking about that in my normal endeavors. I’m not doom and gloom. I also see a balance. I come into contact with so many fantastic people who are the good guys. I meet far more good guys than bad guys. That gives me optimism. It’s easy to forget that there are a lot of wonderful people who every day devote their existence to protecting you. There’s the potential for tremendous evil, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t do any good to get negative and fearful.

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