Sunday, November 29, 2009

Louise Penny pays homage to Agatha Christie

From Chicago Tribune --

Louise Penny pays homage to Agatha Christie --

MCT News Service --
November 4, 2009 --

"The Brutal Telling" by Louise Penny; Minotaur (372 pages, $24.99)

Canadian author Louise Penny's gentle series about insightful Chief Inspector Armand Gamache continues to be an homage to the traditional mysteries of Agatha Christie as well as a riff on those novels.

Penny continues her high standards in this fifth installment. "The Brutal Telling" is laden with dry wit, an involving plot and detailed perspectives about the human condition. Penny knows that mysteries set in quaint little villages run the risk of succumbing to Christie's St. Mary Mead syndrome an unrealistic amount of crime for such a small place.

But Penny uses the limited surroundings in this case the Quebec village of Three Pines to her advantage while poking fun at this genre tenet. "Three Pines had no police force, no traffic lights, no sidewalks ... The place didn't even have crime. Except murder. The only criminal thing that ever happened in this village was the worst possible crime."

The disarmingly charming Gamache is again called to Three Pines when the body of a stranger turns up in the successful bistro run by the popular Oliver Brule. That no one had seen the man, even passing through, is odd for Three Pines. What's even odder is that the body had been moved at least twice. Gamache and his savvy team's instincts lead to a cabin in the woods where the stranger lived for years undetected except for visits from someone who regularly brought supplies. Gamache's investigation leads to the past of some of Three Pines' most prominent residents.

"The Brutal Telling" has frequent laugh-out loud passages coupled with realistic plot twists. Penny avoids loading Three Pines with eccentric residents. Even when a few characters are over the top, the author supplies a veneer of believability such as a cantankerous poet who keeps a pet duck, husband and wife artists jealous of each other's talents and a couple renovating an old home into spa.

While Penny puts Gamache at the center of "The Brutal Telling," she also uses an ensemble cast of characters. Each of Gamache's team is thoughtfully shaped as individuals. And many of Three Pines residents show signs of sticking around for upcoming novels we hope.

The award-winning Penny again shows her skillful storytelling in "The Brutal Telling."

Book Review: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

From Blogcritics --

Book Review: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny --

Author: Warren Kelly –-
Published: Nov 17, 2009 --

"All of them? Even the children?" The fireplace sputtered and cackled and swallowed his gasp. "Slaughtered?"

Any time a book starts with that paragraph, you know it's going to be a fascinating, suspenseful ride. And The Brutal Telling is that, and more. It's an exploration of the human condition.

The Brutal Telling is the latest of Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache novels. Penny brings the reader back to Three Pines, a quiet, isolated village in the woods. Inspector Gamache has been called back to solve another murder, but it's going to take a lot of detective work and intuition to peel back the layers of lies covering the truth behind the shocking murder of an unknown hermit.

We know some of the lies from the beginning; Olivier, who finds the hermit's body lying on the floor of his own bistro, says he doesn't know the man, even though we know that he does. In a normal murder mystery, that would be enough for me to say without a doubt that he did it. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Penny doesn't make things so easy on the reader. With the introduction of every new character, we see someone who may have been able to do it. Penny has woven subtext, red herring, and truth together into a plot as rich as any tapestry hanging on the wall, and even at the end of the book, I wondered if the police really arrested the right person; in spite of all the physical evidence, I really thought there was something missing, some way that the police could have been wrong.

The Brutal Telling isn't a typical murder mystery. All the traditional elements are there, of course, but there are elements that are present that seem to have nothing to do with the actual murder investigation, except peripherally. There is a sub-plot involving a talented artist and her husband, and her desire to have her works shown in a major gallery. It seemed to me at the time that the only reason this plot was there was to introduce an art expert or two to the book, which plays a somewhat important role in the investigation.

But it was more than that, and I didn't realize it until the end. Penny presents us with a picture of humanity, and what we are capable of. But more importantly, we see what we fear the most. The fear of consequences — the fear that what we do has ramifications that we will have to face, if not immediately, then certainly in the future. And consequences have a way of catching up with us.

The characterization in the book is rich; it feels like Penny has written full biographies of each character in the book, along with details of how they interact with other characters. I really felt that these were real people, could picture them in my mind as they interacted and worked, trying to solve this mystery that confronted them. These are people I cared about almost immediately, just because of the way they were written. There was clearly backstory that I didn't know about from previous books, but nothing that wasn't explained was important to the plot or my enjoyment of the book.

The Brutal Telling is highly recommended. It's not a "beach book," and it's not light reading. But it's an outstanding mystery, and I look forward to reading more about Chief Inspector Gamache and the people of Three Pines. The last time I was this impressed with a mystery was when I first read Jaqueline Winspear's Maisy Dobbs books. Of course, now I need to make some time to head to the library to read the rest of the series, before the next one is published.

This much I know: Patricia Cornwell

From The Observer --

This much I know: Patricia Cornwell --
The author, 53, in her own words

By Stuart Husband --
Sunday 29 November 2009 --

My proximity to death – both as a former morgue worker and crime author – hasn't made it any easier to face. We're interested in death and violence because we're afraid of them and want to make sense of them. We never will. But seeing death point-blank has left me less convinced that life is finite. Having spent so much time around the husks of corpses, you ask yourself: where did all the vitality and energy of this person go? Surely it went somewhere? So my spiritual outlook is perhaps more vital than it was before.

My brothers spent a lot of time when I was a little girl telling me how ugly I was. If I'm vain now, it's because I'm still insecure about the way I look.

I've witnessed the moment of death. I saw a murderer executed by lethal injection. The family of his victim asked me to attend with them. It was a bizarre experience. I asked the mother afterwards, do you feel closure? And she didn't. The guy went out screaming abuse; his relatives were all stirred up; the guys in the penitentiary were banging on the walls. It was so violent and ugly and upsetting, and I wondered what purpose any of it served. It convinced me that the death penalty is a very bad idea.

I would never go into politics. I'd be awful. There are too many scandals in my life that would get thrown in my face.

I hate the term "mystery". That's not what I write. I think the Scarpetta novels are much more character-driven than an average puzzle solver. Writing should be like a pane of glass – there's another world on the other side and your vision carries you there, but you're not aware of having passed through a barrier to get there.

I'm not militant about being gay. I live openly because I think it's important to be what you are. I don't politicise it. I leave that to others.

My sensibility isn't morbid as such. I had a fearful imagination as a child – I made up ghost stories and spooked other kids. Halloween was my favourite time of year. I guess I was a little goth, but these days they call me Ms Worst-Case Scenario. I think I'm just being realistic.

I've needed security. I've been stalked. I've had threatening letters. It only takes one person who thinks they have a point to prove… I take steps to limit my vulnerability.

I've never seen the Saw movies – something like that would scare me to death. People should monitor what they're exposing themselves to, and keep a check on their desensitisation levels. Self-censorship is a much undervalued quality.

I'm still having trouble adjusting to the fact that writing has made me rich. The good news is I've never done this for money. I need to write more than I need people to read what I write. The bad news is it brings the predators out. And if you've come from a background like I have, where you shopped at thrift stores and couldn't always pay off your credit cards, it's a huge responsibility. I've actually given away a lot of money.

America is becoming more galvanised in its differences. People seem to be more and more afraid of the things they don't understand; they're running into their own camps and bolting the doors. I think psychologists call it group polarisation. It's very troubling to me.

My biggest fear? Snakes. Me and Indiana Jones both.

No bones about it, Scarpetta is back (Patricia Cornwell)

From --

No bones about it, Scarpetta is back --

By thrillers myles mcweeney --
Saturday November 28 2009 --

THE SCARPETTA FACTOR Patricia Cornwell. (LittleBrown stg£18.99)

It's the week before Christmas in a grey and depressed post-credit crunch New York and forensic pathologist Dr Kay Scarpetta, now working pro bono for the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, has a puzzling case.

The murder victim, a young woman called Toni Darien, was found dead at the edge of Central Park, apparently raped and killed by a blow to the head. Scarpetta's findings suggest a different scenario; that the victim had been alive and unconscious for some time after she had been struck on the head. Where had she been kept for the 36 hours she lay in a coma, and who had attacked her?

Later that evening Scarpetta, who has a contract with CNN as their senior forensic analyst, is asked on live television about the startling disappearance some weeks before of Hannah Starr, a famous financier who is missing and presumed dead. To her dismay Carley Crispin, the TV presenter, then links that case to the death of Toni Darien. Crispin has information that suggests there is a leak in the investigating team.

When she returns to the apartment she shares with her husband Benton Wesley, the former FBI agent who has become a prominent psychologist treating the criminally insane in Bellvue, a suspicious package is waiting for her. As long-time friend Pete Marino, now working for the NYPD, deals with this apparent threat to her life, Scarpetta finds herself embroiled in a deadly plot that involves a famous actor with unspeakable sexual impulses, a deranged former patient of her husband and a psychotic consultant on the paranormal with a long-nursed grudge against Benton Wesley.

Worse still, it appears that Lucy Farinelli, Scarpetta's brilliant and wealthy gay niece, may have shared a secret past with the vanished Hannah Starr. But as Benton Wesley begins to put things together, his greatest fear is that that a deadly spectre from his and Kay's shared past is again reaching out to destroy them.

This is the 17th Scarpetta novel, and signals a welcome return to tip-top form by the author who invented the now somewhat crowded female-forensic-pathologist-as-heroine genre.

Patricia Cornwell cleverly adds a lot of interesting meat to the bones of her regular cast of characters, and her fascination with up-to-the-minute information and medical technology is used to great effect to drive the story forward at a relentlessly accelerating pace to its genuinely suspenseful conclusion.

In Print : First look at new Fairstein mystery

From The Martha's Vineyard Times --

In Print : First look at new Fairstein mystery --

By Jack Shea --
Published: November 25, 2009 --

"Hell Gate" by Linda Fairstein, Dutton Adult, March, 2010, 416 pages, $26.95.

Visitors to New York City occasionally glimpse one of the handful of restored 18th and 19th century manses, most on the edges of Manhattan. Chilmark summer resident Linda Fairstein uses several of them, including the mayor's official residence, Gracie Mansion, as key elements in her latest crime thriller, "Hell Gate."

The hefty book is scheduled for release in March 2010, published by the Dutton imprint of Penguin Books. It is the 12th in Ms. Fairstein's series of crime mysteries that feature protagonist Alexandra Cooper, head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney's office.

The book takes its name from a turbulent strait in the East River between Astoria, Queens, and Manhattan's Randall's Island that claimed hundreds of ships and their crews during New York's early maritime days. In the novel, a freighter with human cargo has run aground off a beach in Queens, dumping bodies into the cold January water.

Ms. Cooper gets the call because it's become clear that the rusty Golden Odyssey has human cargo that includes women passengers bound for the sex trade. Earlier the same morning, an up-and-coming New York City family man congressman lands in legal hot water over his girlfriend, a development that may be related to the white slavery beaching. Ms. Cooper catches the congressman's case as well.

Her job is to protect women such as the washing ashore eastern European waifs who've been branded with iconic tattoos identifying them as the property of a specific white slaver, or "snakehead" in police jargon.

Ms. Fairstein had that job, protecting women, for 30 years. She spent the last 25 years of her career leading sex crime investigations and trials involving sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and homicide for the Manhattan District Attorney's office. The Vassar and University of Virginia Law school graduate left her legal career in 2002 after writing her first book, "Final Jeopardy," in 1996. Like her protagonist, Ms. Fairstein divides her time between the canyons of Manhattan and the beaches of Chilmark where she and husband Justin Feldman have a home.

Her approach to a female crime-fighting character is different from the norm. Most other popular female crime heroines, like Janet Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum and Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone, are tough, wrong-side-of-the-tracks characters, talking the spare, staccato street talk of the crime novel genre. They are bounty hunters and private investigators - sleuths without portfolio, so to speak.

Not so Ms. Cooper. She is well-bred, well-educated and well-heeled. Car doors are opened for her. Her speaking style is long and lyrical. Make no mistake, though. Ms. Fairstein talked her fictional talk in her real life. The infamous "Preppy" murders (the prosecution of Robert Chambers in 1988), and a seemingly endless string of "wilding" crimes in that era occurred on her watch.

This reviewer is used to reading crime novels that race to their conclusion, but the uninitiated Fairstein reader must often slow down. This book is a page-turner - but not at top speed. For one thing, there is civility to the dialogue, despite the wisecracking of sidekick cop Mike Chapman. For another, Ms. Fairstein includes a lot of real-life behind the scenes procedural detail that some readers might prefer to skip. But there are benefits to slowing down the read and paying attention to the real life aspects.

For one thing, the author is an experienced New York courtroom lawyer, arguably the world's largest legal circus. She plans carefully and connects the dots. Go too fast and you'll miss something - like the fact that Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were co-counsels in one New York trial case.

For another, New York City is a central character in her novels. Manhattan's massive and endlessly fascinating sprawl has been creating history for nearly 400 years, and each of Ms. Fairstein's books plumbs an aspect of city history, twinning her plot line with often seemingly mundane historical antecedents that tie to the plot in innovative ways.

Other novelists as disparate as E.L. Doctorow and Jimmy Breslin have found themselves fascinated with the various workings of the city, like New York's system of water pipes and aqueducts, but Ms. Fairstein provides a decidedly different take on the subject, as demonstrated in her 2007 novel, "Bad Blood." Other Alexandra Cooper plots involve city museums, the public library and Lincoln Center.

Would I like the action to go faster? Yes. Would I like Alex Cooper to be harder, crisper and tougher? Yes. But do I believe that I've read a real account of thinly-disguised crimes and the workings of a politically-tainted big city criminal justice system, written by someone to whom justice is extremely important? Yes.

The Scarpetta Factor, By Patricia Cornwell

From --

The Scarpetta Factor, By Patricia Cornwell --

Reviewed by Barry Forshaw --
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 --

When interviewed by this newspaper, Patricia Cornwell demonstrated the qualities that have put her in pole position in crime fiction: a fierce intelligence and a determination to be the best at what she does – both characteristics of her forensic pathologist, Kay Scarpetta. But Cornwell shares another characteristic of her heroine's, which undercuts her rather fearsome reputation: a certain vulnerability. When asked about the pretenders whose books are routinely straplined with the phrase "the next Patricia Cornwell", she replied plaintively, "I want to be the next Patricia Cornwell!... I want to be one of those young guns again."

It's this combination of determination and insecurity that (channelled into Scarpetta) has made the books so distinctive, even when Cornwell went through a period where her writing seemed tired. In The Scarpetta Factor, the 17th book, Scarpetta is suffering from the effects of the credit crunch. She decides to work on a pro bono basis for the New York City office of the Chief Medical Examiner. But she finds she cannot do the quiet, methodical work that is her métier – and also discovers the price of instant celebrity. She is interviewed on air about the high-profile disappearance of financial planner Hannah Starr. There is a shocking call-in from a psychiatric patient once in the care of Scarpetta's partner, Benton Wesley. Arriving home at the apartment she shares with the psychiatrist, she discovers a suspicious-looking package. Is it a bomb?

As often before, Scarpetta finds her life is on the line as she becomes embroiled in a bizarre conspiracy involving a missing wealthy woman who has a secret connection with Scarpetta's gay niece Lucy. All of this is handled with the customary Cornwell assurance, although the plotting here strains credulity at times.

How much mileage is left for the Scarpetta franchise? Those who have been worried by what seemed uncomfortably like self-parody in recent books can rest easy. The Scarpetta Factor is a novel that has clearly engaged Cornwell in the same fashion as her vintage work.

Killer Queen: Patricia Cornwell Interview


Killer Queen: Patricia Cornwell Interview --

By Nigel Farndale --
Published: 10:52AM GMT 16 Nov 2009 --

The world’s best-selling, most controversial crime author has spent much of her life surrounded by corpses, guns and the Bush family. Is it any wonder she’s paranoid?

To sit opposite Patricia Cornwell is to sit opposite a character she created 20 years ago, Dr Kay Scarpetta, the forensic pathologist.

The resemblance is only partly physical. Cornwell is a petite and sinewy 53 year-old from North Carolina who, with her tightened features, has been compared to 'a freeze-dried Meg Ryan’ (though come to think of it, even Meg Ryan looks freeze-dried these days).

She is poised at one end of an enormous sofa in an enormous hotel room, as alert and watchful as a terrier. Her hair is blonde and her eyes are cold blue. Because of contact lenses, presumably, they look cloudy and robotic. Her stare is intense. When she laughs it is neatly, without amusement.

She is wearing blue jeans, cowboy boots and a cowboy buckle on her belt – frivolous accessories that only emphasise her lack of frivolity.

Well, it’s a stressful business being the biggest-selling crime writer in the world (and the second biggest-selling female writer in any genre, after J K Rowling). It is estimated that Cornwell is worth just over £60 million although, as I am to discover, she has just launched a legal action against her financial management company in New York, suing them for alleged negligence. Since 2005, according to one source, they may have lost her as much as £25 million, almost half her fortune. The case is ongoing and she is not sure of the exact figures yet.

We shall come to that. For now it is worth reminding ourselves of her USP as a crime writer: that she knows whereof she writes, having spent six years working in a chief medical examiner’s office in Virginia, one that dealt with murder cases, usually ones involving sexual assault. There she watched many an autopsy being performed. And this is another reason why her readers often confuse her with her heroine, Dr Scarpetta.

But Cornwell’s back-story is more interesting than Scarpetta’s. More Gothic. And one she wouldn’t get away with in fiction.

She was five when her father, a lawyer, walked out on the family, on Christmas morning. She clung on to his leg as he left, pleading with him not to go. Soon after this she was molested by a security guard, a case that ended with her giving evidence in court.

Her mother by now was spiralling into chronic depression. This meant that Cornwell had to be sent to live with foster parents. Sadistic foster parents. She became anorexic in her teens and recovered only to succumb to depression herself, in her twenties. This has come and gone over the years.

When I ask how her own depression compares with her mother’s she answers in an accent that combines briskness with a Southern drawl, like someone driving with her foot on the accelerator and the brake at the same time.

'Hers was much worse than mine because she was admitted to hospital. Mine has never been that dark or debilitating. I think mine has got better as I’ve got older. And it is the only good thing about getting older, by the way. I’m bipolar but my moods are more stable. I don’t take medication for it,’ Cornwell says.

In her twenties she married her professor (male) who was 17 years older than her. Now, as of three years ago, she is married to a professor (female) who is 10 years younger. Her name is Staci Gruber and she is associate director of Harvard’s McLean psychiatric hospital. They met when Cornwell was researching sociopaths for a novel. Cornwell says with a laugh that Gruber’s first impression of her was that she was a narcissist.

Whatever the truth of that, she cannot be accused of being boring. She flies her own helicopter, rides a Harley-Davidson and drives a Ferrari. She also collects guns. And when the press outed her as gay it was because she had had an affair with a married FBI agent whose husband became so angry there was a shoot out.

Cornwell stirs up controversy in the same casual manner other people stir their tea. She is also highly litigious, not long ago taking a cyberstalker to court. The liberal left in America, meanwhile, suspect she is the devil wearing Prada – not least because she donated huge sums to the Republican party and was so chummy with the Bushes, especially Bush senior, she would be invited to their family retreat in Kennebunkport.

On my way in to see her I pass her bodyguard, an ex-marine. It is a reminder of another reputation she has: for being a worrier. When it comes to her personal security you could say she was a little paranoid.

'The thing is,’ she says, 'I do know what can happen out there, that is why I am always trying to prevent a situation by doing A, B or C. I think knowing it is a good thing. Like fastening your seat belt. Maybe I can avoid that one thing that might kill me and not even know how close I came. It’s like when I’m flying someone somewhere in my helicopter, even before the thing has started I never let them walk around the back because it’s the tail rotor that will get you – you can’t see it and it’s at head level,’ she says.

Cornwell’s insecurities extend to her writing. 'Even if you are a best-seller you feel insecure because it is all so unpredictable. You think, are people still going to go out and buy this?’

But isn’t it a forgone conclusion that her new book will be an international best-seller like all the others? 'I am just as insecure for my new book as I was for my first one. Even with all the research I do, I don’t really know where the ideas come from, so I feel nervous about the ideas not being there one day.

'I’m always surprised when large numbers of people buy my books. I think: “Who are all these people?”’ she says.

In her new Scarpetta thriller, the 17th in the series, she seems to merge identities with her heroine even more than usual. Scarpetta appears as a crime scene expert on CNN, the news channel on which Cornwell herself is a regular guest.

So what is it with her and Scarpetta? Is it a form of narcissism? 'I don’t even remember why I decided to make her blue-eyed and blonde-haired. I don’t think it came from me. When I envision Scarpetta, she doesn’t look like me. She is not a projection of me. That means I can continue to explore her and not get bored with her.’

Cornwell also has a fair amount in common with Lucy, Scarpetta’s niece. 'In some ways, yes, but Lucy is much more accomplished than me. I am a good helicopter pilot but not as good as she is,’ she says.

I was thinking more of the mood swings. 'Yes, I am more volatile and emotional, like Lucy. Scarpetta filters things better. She is more logical and organised.’

And also the lesbianism. Cornwell discovered she was gay at the same time as her character Lucy did, in The Body Farm. What was that about? The timing, I mean.

'Actually, it was earlier than that for me. Lucy came out in 1994 when I was writing that book. She walked into the room and in my mind I suddenly realised she is gay. Holy smoke! What am I going to do with that? That was at a time when it was not a cool thing to do. It was risky for a series that had already become popular,’ Cornwell admits.

And she must have wondered how her own change of sexual direction would play with her readers? 'I don’t know how it played, because unless you take a poll and find out how many readers stop buying books because of it, you can never know. Some may have started buying them because of it.

'I know my sexuality will have had an impact on certain religious groups who would find it offensive. But I try very hard to be honest and I don’t want people having perceptions of me that are false just for the sake of a few book sales.’

In the new book, The Scarpetta Factor, there is the usual serial killer tracked down by a forensic investigation, and if this seems formulaic, it has to be pointed out that Cornwell did more or less invent this genre and spawn dozens of imitators – many of them on television, such as Silent Witness, CSI and so on.

But the way Cornwell sees it, it is more a matter of her having created a character who has taken on a life of her own. 'I have learnt to give people what they want and they want Scarpetta,’ she says. 'But she does put a road block up for me as a writer, because I’m not sure whether people would be as interested in anything else I wrote.’

One of her few attempts at writing non-fiction was not well received by the critics. It was a book about Jack the Ripper, whom she became convinced was the artist Walter Sickert. So she began buying up his paintings. About 30 of them. When it emerged that she had cut one of them up looking for DNA evidence, the art world was appalled. Like she cared.

Cornwell’s interest in the gory details of the Ripper case were consistent with the concerns in her fiction. Her novels usually begin with the discovery of a woman’s semi-naked body. In one, the corpse is decapitated, in another peeled, and in another the eyes balls have been removed and the sockets filled with sand.

Can she talk me through her thought processes? Does she start with a single visual image in her head – the dead body – and then work out why it is there? 'I do, and then what happens is that the image never ends up being the one with which I start the book. The image I had of Scarpetta for this one was of her sitting on this dark television set. I tried it but realised the book needed to open in the morgue, so I went back to the New York Medical Examiner’s Office to do my research.’

The image she finds most powerful in that office is the elevator that brings the bodies up from the lower level. 'It is very restricted access, even now when I am friends with a lot of the people who work there,’ Cornwell says.

'As I was waiting for my appointment, I realised I was the only person who ever walked into that office who was happy to be there. Everyone else there was having the worst day of their life. They are taken back to the family room and the doors part and then they have to identify the body of a loved one.

'I can’t imagine what it would be like if that were someone I cared about on the other side of the Plexiglas. I thought, that’s the image I want Scarpetta to deal with in the first chapter. The body should be someone she knows and cares about.’

Does that make Cornwell cold, observing other people’s worst days like that?

A firm shake of the head. 'No, and do you know why? I don’t observe that much. And I wouldn’t do it unless the family member was OK with me observing. Even then I would never write down the names of real people. It may sound cold to you but for me it’s about keeping up to date with the morgue process. There have been various changes since I worked in one, rules about biohazards, litigation and so on.’

Although the dead person doesn’t know anything about it, the prospect of one day being laid out naked on a slab while a stranger dissects your body is truly terrifying. Such intimacy, such violation – it’s the stuff of nightmares.

'It is a chilling thought that someone might do that to you,’ Cornwell says with a nod. 'I hope it’s not how I go out. I wouldn’t want to donate my body for scientific study. I don’t want to lie up there and decompose in front of everyone, thank you. I look bad enough as it is when I get up in the morning.’

Not a bad joke that. Evidence of a sense of humour. When Cornwell worked in a morgue, she adds, she and her colleagues would often reflect upon the fact that the only thing the dead people had in common was that none of them imagined they would end up there.

'Except maybe people who commit suicide and know that an autopsy will be inevitable,’ she says.

Cornwell recalls that there was some black humour in the morgue. A defence mechanism. 'But the strangest things are the most mundane, like when people start talking about where they should go for lunch. You are talking about your favourite barbecue place while you are standing over an open body.

'I find it difficult to attend autopsies. Especially the smells. People don’t know that about me, they assume I find it easy or entertaining. I don’t get used to it. It’s the little things that get you, like what someone had in their pocket, the photograph of a loved one or a good luck trinket. The clothing, the way someone held something together with a safety pin, the way someone had shaved their legs when they got up that morning not thinking for a moment they would die that day.’

What I am getting at is that it might be morally wrong to entertain people with what she saw at the morgue. 'Possibly, but I made a conscious effort to be as honest about it as I could, to convey the ugliness and pain of it. I won’t entertain by trivialising or celebrating or glamourising it.’

Does she contemplate her own mortality?

'When I reached my fifties I became very conscious of my age. I could see more clearly that the lifeline would one day stop. You know that road isn’t going to last forever. You become more reflective, stuff becomes harder to look at because you think: “Wow, that person was my age and he dropped dead of a heart attack out jogging.” Anything where biology starts having its way with you makes you think.

'No matter what I do [she points to her face], biology will always have the last word.’

The conversation turns to materialism. Cornwell reckons she isn’t motivated by it, for all her wealth: 'I don’t really want to know what is going on in my businesses, unless I’m made to face it. I’d rather be getting on with my writing and stuff.’

So could she be suckered by a Bernard Madoff? 'Well, seeing as I’m in a big lawsuit at the moment, the answer is yes. The difference is, I try and trust people. I’m not a businesswoman. I didn’t start out as one. I never even thought I would make money. I didn’t intend to. If I had to, I think I could go back to living a very simple life.’

Does she know how much she is worth?

'Right now? That is a dubious question because you have to add up contracts, things that haven’t been paid out yet, so over a long period it is a lot of money, but it is not as much as it was because of…’ she shakes her head.

'Things we’re not yet sure about. Certainly not what it was and what I should be worth at this stage of the game. But I’m not going to whine about it, I am more comfortable than the average person. But that doesn’t make it right for someone to take something from you, or exploit another person without their permission. Don’t worry, I will get to the bottom of what happened to my money.’

Bad investments and mismanaged rental properties and construction work appear to be some of the reasons for the haemorrhaging of her fortune. But one of the more brazen ways in which the blue chip, financial management firm Anchin, Block & Anchin mishandled her money, it is alleged, is that Cornwell found herself paying out $5,000 for a bar mitzvah for a girl she hadn’t even met, a company director’s daughter.

The firm specialises in 'privately held businesses and high net-worth individuals’, and other famous clients include Robert De Niro. Their pitch is that they 'do everything for their clients including buying and delivering their toilet paper’.

'If you are a writer,’ Cornwell says, 'you want to get away from the day-to-day financial stuff. You don’t want to hear about a duplicate bill because that is going to distract you. You have to block out a lot or you can’t focus. That does get selfish at times.’

Was not having children part of that being selfish with her time?

'I think it would be incredibly difficult if you had a child running into the room wanting your attention when you are in the middle of a paragraph. But that’s not necessarily why I took the decision not to have kids. It just didn’t seem to be on the cards for me. I think some people feel they will be better parents than others. I didn’t feel it and I didn’t have a whole lot of role modelling. Maybe it was fear.’

Her own childhood having been unhappy? 'Yeah. I don’t think I could have lived with the idea of a child of mine having an unhappy childhood as well,’ Cornwell says.

There is something quite masculine about her writing; the style is taut and economic. Not Hemingwayesque exactly, but not flowery. Was writing about manly things in a manly way to do with her wanting to win, belatedly, the approval of the father who abandoned her?

'I don’t think so. I have never been accused of having a feminine prose style, it’s true. And as a girl I always wore shorts rather than skirts. I was a tomboy. To me, cruelty was a petticoat because I couldn’t climb trees in it. You have to remember I grew up with two brothers in a town without girls. I grew up playing with boys and as an adult my first job was working as a crime reporter, and for that I would be riding with policemen in a patrol car. I learnt to become very comfortable in the company of men.’

She levels her blue eyes at me. 'I guess it’s about the appropriation of power. You have to adapt or die.’ As she says this, the temperature in the room seems to drop.

The Cornwell factor

From The Age --

The Cornwell factor --

By Paola Totaro --
November 15, 2009 --

IT IS mid-afternoon at the Soho Hotel and already, the light is fading fast as the London winter starts to make itself felt. The lobby is frenetic, as always, bristling with newly arrived guests and purposeful staff. It is a favourite of visiting celebrities, writers, musicians and actors; staff treat the ubiquitous TV crews and photographers as if they are part of the uber cool furniture, the front desk concierges seemingly impervious to both fame and flashbulbs.

The bestselling American author Patricia Cornwell is upstairs in a big - no, huge - suite on an upper floor of the buzzy inn. Panoramic windows overlook an expanse of West End roofs.

The 53-year-old creator of the razor sharp forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta emerges from one of many doors, her handshake as firm and direct as that ascribed to her book's central character. Immaculately coiffed, short blonde hair framing a handsome, remarkably unlined face, she is dressed in leather biker-style boots, knife-edge pressed hipster jeans, a big buckled belt, black T-shirt encrusted with a Damien Hirst-style sequinned skull, and well-cut jacket. She wears jewellery, the most obvious a wedding ring with diamonds, a visible symbol of her marriage in 2005 to Dr Staci Gruber, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Harvard.

Cornwell's looks and sexuality - she was famously outed in 1992 after a brief affair with FBI agent Marguerite Bennett that culminated in the attempted murder of Bennett by her jealous husband - should not really be subject of discussion in an interview about The Scarpetta Factor, her new thriller. But it is hard not to go there because so much of the author's world, her experiences and observations, permeate the novel.

Lucy, Scarpetta's computer genius niece, is gay and her complex relationship with the New York Medical Examiner, Jaime Berger, is integral to the plot. Lucy has a penchant for driving Ferraris (so did Cornwell); she loves the adrenaline rush of flying a helicopter (so does Cornwell); is fragile and struggles with dark moods (Cornwell says she manages her bipolar disorder without medication); and in this book Lucy is furiously tracking a rogue financial adviser who has decimated her multimillion-dollar fortune.

Days before our interview, news broke that Cornwell, reputed to earn $US10 million ($11 million) a year, and Gruber are suing their long-time financial advisers, claiming that they have burned through $40 million of their clients' money since 2005. In the novel, however, the fraud that siphoned millions from Lucy's fortune is treated more as a personal betrayal.

Seated ramrod straight on one of the suite's enormous couches, one boot resting across her knee, Cornwell pauses before acknowledging the links between herself and her characters. "There's probably a little bit of me in all of them, for good or for bad,'' she concedes. "But none of them, not even Scarpetta, are very much like me and that's good because I can honestly just thoroughly enjoy her and not be bored.''

In an interview published in The Times last year, Cornwell suggested Scarpetta was in fact based on an idealised version of the mother she wished she'd had. Her real mother was hospitalised for mental illness after her lawyer husband walked out when Cornwell was five. Young Patricia subsequently spent time with a cruel and terrifying foster mother, an experience she has described as traumatic. ''I probably kill this lady every time I write a book,'' she told The Times' Janice Turner.

Cornwell, who published her first Scarpetta novel in 1990, started her professional life as a crime reporter on The Charlotte Observer in North Carolina and later spent a number of years as an analyst in a medical examiner's office. Now she mines her partner's expertise when she is working through a new plot.

"I was always interested in the psychology and the psychiatry of what is going on with these crimes. If you live with a Harvard scientist then it has to be a good resource. I always give her credit. We have a lot of fun conspiring these things. I like relying on people who are smarter than me," she says.

Gruber is clearly a useful creative resource for her novels. A piece of equipment integral to the plot of The Scarpetta Factor was a Gruber invention. "Staci helped me create the 'Biograph','' she says. ''I asked her to invent something for me which was within the realm of possibility.''

Cornwell credits Gruber with bringing a greater sense of stability and belonging to her life. The couple wed in Massachusetts, one of only five US states that allow gay marriage. Cornwell has since said that the marriage radicalised her politics, turning her from a trenchant Republican into a Democrat. ''I've never been a soapbox person for gay rights, but now I'm in a same-sex marriage I tend to be more open, because I am outraged that it should be illegal in other states,'' she told Britain's Telegraph in 2007.

Perhaps in another nod to Gruber, the latest Scarpetta book shows signs of being written by a more candid and content Cornwell. There is a scene in which Scarpetta, terrified by a narrow escape, casts off her cool veneer in the privacy of her marriage and home. It makes for an intimate vignette, sharply written and observed.

Cornwell launches her new story in New York, where we find Dr Kay Scarpetta in a melancholy mood and contemplating Christmas. The world is reeling in the global financial storm, and straitened economic times have meant the forensic specialist is doing some pro bono work for the city's chief medical examiner.

Scarpetta has also reluctantly taken on a regular spot on a CNN TV show to talk about forensic science and, mid-way thorough the last appearance of the year, she is asked about the controversial disappearance of a famous heiress, Hannah Starr, who is presumed dead.

Minutes later, she takes a strange live call from a former patient of her psychiatrist husband, Benton Wesley.

So starts a complex, layered plot that ranges from dark, psychological thriller to an occasionally masterful observation of human relationships.

Cornwell says forensic science is no longer the central tenet of her novels. She launched the genre in the early 1990s but now, the so-called CSI factor has reached saturation point and for her, it is the characters and their world that drive her writing.

"When I was first coming out with new books, I was the only show in town but all of a sudden they're everywhere … I want to write about how the world affects them. I was so shocked at seeing the impact of the global financial crisis on New York, the boarded-up windows, emptied streets and graffitied walls. I set the book in the lead-up to Christmas because it is an emotionally charged time of year and especially in such a time," she said.

"I wanted to see what the economic crisis would mean, how it affected the characters and so the economy itself became a character. By doing that, the characters began to dictate to me what happened to them."

Still a journalist at heart, Cornwell researches her books as if she were writing non-fiction, spending months in the places where she plans to take her characters.

"I spent a lot of time with the NYPD [New York City Police Department], with their bomb squad, the emergency units, the Real Time Crime Centre, so I could explain and write about the incredible way computers are used to transmit data to police responding to a call,'' she said.

"I spent time at the NYPD crime lab … The technology of the electronic nose, [a] mechanical sniffer that takes the place of cadaver dogs, is based on things I've seen, as is the IT stuff - cyber crime and how people do things like hide IP addresses."

The latest plot also reflects Cornwell's own questions about the rapid nature of change in the modern world, a place where we are constantly connected, on laptops at home, via BlackBerry in the street, the supermarket and even on holidays. One of the biggest crises for Scarpetta comes when she fails to set a password on her BlackBerry because she cannot be bothered to go through the security rigmarole every time she uses the phone. Cornwell says it was born of her own frustrations and experience and that the biggest war she wages in her own life is distraction.

"If I'm distracted, my characters won't talk to me and share their world with me. Call them actors or whatever you like but they won't star in my movie unless I concentrate on them and nothing else." Cornwell flies a chopper partly to get from A to B, but also because it's the one place she can't look at her BlackBerry, check emails, or play on the laptop.

The nature of fame also comes under scrutiny in the latest book, as Cornwell allows her heroine to be courted by CNN to host her own TV show, The Scarpetta Factor (hence the book's title). The protagonist, however, agonises that her high profile could create the illusion that she has a mythical ''something'' that allows her to solve every case. Her inner fear is that she will become a victim of her own stereotype.

Fame has clearly been a double-edged sword for Cornwell, who describes herself as hyper-vigilant. Perhaps as a result of her research into the often gruesome crimes in her novels, her penchant for security is notorious, reportedly extending to undercover bodyguards and a handgun she is said to carry when walking her dogs.

Cornwell has been writing about Scarpetta and her cohorts for 20 years and argues that it is the growth of her characters and the evolution of their lives that keep her books fresh. Asked if she sees an end for her heroine, she bristles. "No, I don't see an end, because people are always going to die and their cases are always going to have to be worked whether it's with the technology we know today or something new,'' she says.

"If she continues to do what she does then she is going to have to adapt to the world we live in the same way as the rest of us do, so I don't see an end to her productivity or relevance. The ultimate Scarpetta factor is the way she thinks … answers that aren't just going to come from science or instruments. It's the human element. That is what I am interested in now."

Cornwell pretty much produces a book each year, researching until Christmas and then writing over the next six months to deliver to her publishers in June. By the time the books are released globally around November she is well into the next book.

The next one is already past infancy and while Scarpetta will remain in New York, ''something'' - a mystery from her youth - will take her to Washington. "I'm going to keep it a secret for now except to say that she is going to revisit something that will reveal to the readers something that she did many years ago that nobody knows about. Something that is very important to who she is. It's an aspect of her professional past that I've never showed anybody before. I've made hints at it in some ways but it's not been there, not discussed, and it's going to be a surprise."

Will the crime or Scarpetta drive the stories of the future?

"It's a real balancing act,'' Cornwell says. ''I don't want to trivialise it too much - and that's why I don't like people calling my books mysteries. They most certainly aren't and neither are they puzzles to be solved: what they are are tragedies, deaths that should be dealt with so the [victims'] stories can be heard."

A forensic mind (Patricia Cornwell)

From The Irish Times --

A forensic mind --

Saturday, November 14, 2009 --

INTERVIEW: Patricia Cornwell, who has just released the 17th novel in her massively popular Kay Scarpetta series, had a circuitous route to success, rising from poverty to practically invent the forensic fiction genre via crime journalism and a medical examiner’s office. HILARY FANNIN met her in London

LONDON’S SOHO HOTEL, a bit like its celebrity clientele, who hide themselves behind obliterating designer sunglasses, disguises itself behind a dull brick facade. A former car park, the building itself is yawningly mundane, but as you approach the entrance and pick your way to the door, past shiny black jeeps with heavily tinted glass windows and florists’ delivery trucks disgorging archly minimalist bouquets, you begin to sense the true nature of this achingly hip hostelry crouched in the capital’s burbling media hub.

On the instructions of the deadly serious PR company, I wait in the lobby, on a zebra-print chair next to a fuchsia lamp and some hostile-looking paper sculptures, and observe the glittering action. Young men in drainpipe trousers and suede bootees glide past, exuding urgency, with cameras and boom mikes slung over their slender backs, hair gel glistening in the modular lighting. Grouped around on mushrooming sofas, other young men pitch ideas to one another with casual intensity, the word “budget” rising out of the ether around them like the vapour of their expensive perfumes.

I’m thinking about the woman I’m here to meet, novelist Patricia Cornwell, who has just released her 17th Kay Scarpetta novel, The Scarpetta Factor. Scarpetta, for those of you who refuse to be drawn into the bowels of murder fiction and have never read Cornwell, is a forensic pathologist and chief medical officer in the state of Virginia, who has been eviscerating a heady variety of dead bodies on steel morgue tables since first appearing in the early 1990s in the novels Postmortem and Body of Evidence, the forerunners of the now scarily popular forensic fiction genre.

My thoughts on Cornwell, a woman whose meticulous research and spectacular output have earned her a worldwide fan base and a bank balance to make Nama weep, are interrupted by a pleasantly ordinary middle-aged woman seated nearby. Looking as incongruous as a goldfish in a toaster, she leans across the expensive air that surrounds us. “I just saw David Tennant getting into the lift,” she whispers, with as much joyous astonishment as if she’d seen Dr Who disappear into his Tardis.

“Are you staying here?” she asks me, doubtfully.

“No,” I reply. “Are you?”

“No, I’m just waiting for my friend. She’s on the fourth floor with Gok Wan. She’s got a tumour. He’s doing a special.”

I’m intrigued, but suddenly the PR woman is hovering with a clipboard. It is time to go and meet my author.

Patricia Cornwell is 53, but the slight, taut woman who stands in the middle of the airy hotel suite, poised like a sinewy calf on a starting block, could pass for 30. She is beautiful in the elaborately constructed way of the very rich: well-cut blonde hair, porcelain skin that shows no sign of its half-century, humourless but luminous turquoise eyes, shirt lapels so sharp they could inflict serious damage, and a belt buckle embossed with the face of a snarling tiger. I want to ask her if she has gone under the knife to achieve such startling flawlessness, or if she too has nipped up a couple of flights to parley with Gok, but there is something about her slightly frosty calm that seals my lips.

We begin our conversation with Cornwell’s recollections of being an English major at Davidson College, North Carolina, a private liberal arts college that she worked hard to get into. “I didn’t have it come easy,” she says, her southern inflection momentarily catapulting our chat in the direction of a country and western ballad.

Despite her background of poverty and an indifferent public school education, Cornwell earned her place in the prestigious institution because of her prowess at tennis. “I couldn’t even afford the tennis balls when I was growing up. I used to fish them outta the creek behind the courts,” she says. “I taught myself to play by watching people. I’d hit on the back board, wait for someone to ask me to play, ended up on the boys’ team in high school.”

At Davidson, where Cornwell survived on state financial aid and a waitressing job, she realised she wasn’t good enough to be a tennis pro. Instead she threw herself into her academic work. She was writing poetry and “neurotic autobiographical” fiction when, in her senior year, one of her professors advised her to try and get work on the Charlotte Observer. The newspaper hired her in a clerical position to update the TV listings.

“I’d leave the house at 3am, get into the office at 4am, do my eight-hour shift, finish at noon, then go around every single news desk and pick up work,” she recalls. She wrote about all those things that the loftier journos rejected, from the launch of an air compressor to the opening of a stamp-collection display. Soon, and with overtime mounting, the paper promoted her to general assignments and she was given the police beat. She graduated to riding around with the police, “becoming part of their world”. There was violence, she recalls, and corruption, and there were stories – and a story, she says, fixing me with her cool, marble eye, “becomes interesting because of the person who tells it.”

She must have had extraordinary drive and tenacity to work 16-hour days and hang around police stations all night until someone offered her a ride in the panda car? “I was desperately afraid of amounting to nothing,” she says. “I was afraid I would just be poor and have no life for myself.”

Later, with reluctance, she talks a little about her mother, who, after an acrimonious divorce, brought up Cornwell and her two brothers alone. “She had her setbacks, but she did a remarkable job of raising us, keeping us all together, an absent husband in Florida doing everything to be unhelpful, banks calling, $1.50 in her checking account.”

Cornwell’s mother, who now lives in a retirement home, had two major episodes of depression when her daughter was aged nine and 13, periods when she was unable to care for her children. When pressed, Cornwell reiterates her admiration for her mother’s tenacity in keeping the family afloat during the times she was clinically capable of doing so.

It was during the periods of her mother’s depression that Cornwell became close to Ruth Graham, wife of the evangelist Billy Graham. And years later, she decided to write Ruth Graham’s biography, as a way of alleviating the penury of life in a seminarian’s apartment (the young Patricia had married Charlie Cornwell, her English professor, who had decided to leave his university post and train instead as a Presbyterian minister). Despite her enduring toughness, the biography proved a bruising task for Cornwell, with the Graham family taking umbrage at the book. “Ruth was a product, a property,” says Cornwell, and a legal battle ensued in which the young writer found herself facing down Billy Graham’s gargantuan organisation.

Truth then took on a fiction-like quality when a powerful lawyer and friend of her husband’s took on Cornwell’s case, pro bono, and won. The book, Ruth, A Portrait: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham, was published and Cornwell’s career was saved. Her marriage, however, was over, and she had a slew of rejections under her tiny belt for the detective fiction she was also writing. She says that this phase of her life taught her two things: that she wanted to write books, and that she wasn’t through with crime.

There followed six years working in the medical examiner’s office in Richmond, Virginia, “taking notes for the rubber-gloved pathologists, weighing the organs, hanging up the bloodied coats”, initially on a voluntary basis in order to carry out research. “This was the world I wanted to know, how the dead can speak.”

Cornwell, with the unfaltering professionalism of a woman whose autobiographical details trip easily from her tongue, then talks about the acceptance of the first Scarpetta novel, albeit with a limited print run of 6,000. And one day, as Cornwell sat at her desk by the cinder-block wall of the morgue, with smells coming up from the basement, her agent rang to say that she’d been invited to London to meet Princess Margaret and pick up a British crime fiction award. Cornwell’s subsequent curtsey to the blighted royal marked the turning point in her extraordinarily successful writing career. Now, with the 17 Scarpetta novels, three further crime novels (featuring Andy Brazil), a children’s book, a couple of cookbooks and a tome called Portrait of a Killer – Jack the Ripper: Case Closed (explaining why she believes the painter Walter Sickert was the Ripper, a thesis pretty universally panned by other Ripperologists), Cornwell is immovably established as a major international best-selling author.

“I don’t have her pedigree or her pristine way of thinking,” Cornwell replies when I ask her if she identifies with her most famous fictional heroine, the ice-blonde Kay Scarpetta.

Lucy, the other major character in the series, is Scarpetta’s niece, young, angry, gay, technologically super-literate, with a penchant for putting her pedal to the metal in her Ferrari and an uncanny ability to land her helicopter in the teeth of a gale. She is a character possibly closer to Cornwell’s personality, given that the writer, too, is the owner of numerous Harley Davidsons and the aforementioned Ferrari and helicopter.

“It’s hard to know who creates whom,” Cornwell says, and indeed she is at her most animated when she discusses the cast of characters who recur in the books with the same regularity as decomposing corpses. “Lucy has a special vintage of anger, an insatiable quest for feeling powerful – but she wouldn’t tell you that if she was sitting here.”

Cornwell’s own sexuality is almost as well-known as her oeuvre. She was outed after a brief affair with an FBI agent she met while researching a novel, and there followed sensational reports of the trial in 1997 of Eugene Bennett, the woman’s husband, a former FBI man, who attempted to murder his wife after her affair with Cornwell. Since those difficult days, she appears to have overcome her reluctance to speak about her sexual orientation, and in 2005, in the state of Massachusetts, a long way from her Bible-belt childhood home, Cornwell married Dr Staci Gruber, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“Most people who are gay would say that there is a discomfort factor,” she says. “It’s not like the whole world celebrates you. Some people hate you, some people tolerate you, some embrace you, most say we will let you do this – why should there be a ‘let’? Gee, I didn’t realise that I was so second-class that I didn’t deserve the same liberties and civil rights as everyone else.”

Cornwell’s entire persona exudes control, or a battle for control. Steely, diminutive, clinically intelligent, terse, 17 best-sellers and God knows how many hotel suites later, she appears poised on the tip of exhaustion, but her professionalism and some inextinguishable desire to keep communicating to her readership holds her steady.

The anxious PR consultant is popping in and out of an anteroom like a confused figure on a weather vane – she has been signalling five minutes to the end of the interview for a good 10 minutes now. Before I leave to shimmy down the exotically wallpapered corridors past Cornwell’s bevy of security personnel, I ask her if her sexual orientation informs her fiction. “Anything that makes you stop and think, to become introspective and aware of your existence, that’s got to be good, something that drags against the surface – it can make you a better writer,” she says. “I’ve always had something along the way that made me go, ‘Now, that didn’t feel good’.”

As I stand to go, her expression seems pinned, a fixed coolness on her delicate face. “Is this a good time for you?” I ask.

“We are dealing with tremendous change, economically, politically, technologically,” she says. “I’m facing a world that is rapidly shifting. We are all trying to find our place in it right now.”

The Scarpetta Factor ends, after 36 hours of high-tech sleuthing, tender evisceration and a spot of necrophilia, with Kay Scarpetta at peace with her marriage, her colleagues and herself, and happy to go home. Cornwell, too, is heading home, away from drizzly Blighty and these funky Soho chambers. Very soon, she says, she will start to research Scarpetta number 18, making use of the privileges of her success to write it: “Discipline, focus and silence . . . I won’t quit till it quits me.”

The security entourage view my progress away from Patricia Cornwell with indifference. On the ground floor, the lift doors ping open to reveal the smiling woman still sitting sentry, waiting for her friend to be released from Gok’s makeover.

Outside in the damp street, a fleet of darkened cars rev up.

The Romance Reader: 'Kindred In Death' (J.D. Robb)

From Seattle-Tacoma The News Tribute --

The Romance Reader: 'Kindred In Death' --

By LEZLIE PATTERSON; McClatchy-Tribune News Service --
Published: 10/28/09 --

It's easy to see why many romance readers unwaveringly and staunchly love this series.

There's Roarke, the perfect hero.

There's Eve, the perfect heroine.

There are Peabody, Summerset, Mavis, Feeney and the rest of the perfect supporting cast.

Then there are the stories, each perfectly crafted to blend in a compelling murder case while still watching Eve and Roarke enjoy their unique brand of marital bliss.


Nora Roberts (writing as Robb) does an incredible job of making these futuristic romances appeal to the masses - even those who usually eschew futuristic stories and many (including men) who normally shun even the idea of reading a romance.

Each book in this series, which she began in 1995 with "Naked In Death," is exciting, entertaining and sizzling. Twenty-nine books later, readers clamor to read new stories about Eve and Roarke as soon as they hit the shelves.

And each book is one to savor.

Like many of the "In Death" books, "Kindred In Death" (due out Nov. 3) has a disturbing murder that Eve, with assistance from Roarke and the others, must solve while trying to balance the personal life that often baffles and befuddles her.

It's as Roarke often reflects, "For a woman of her sometimes terrifying courage, she feared the oddest things."

A cop's daughter is killed and Eve is on the case. In between chasing leads and interviewing witnesses, she's trying to figure out what she's supposed to do to help her friend Louise with her wedding.

The murder is despicable, just like the villains Eve ultimately catches.

And of course Roarke is there when he needs to be, lending assistance, support, love and passion.

Like the rest of these books, you'll finish this one looking forward to the next.


Overall rating: 5 of 5. The trademark witty repartee is there, the compelling suspense and the sizzling romance. Not to mention Roarke. These books make you laugh, cringe, sigh and cheer.

Hunk appeal: 10-plus. Again, Roarke is the measure that no other hero can live up to. It's really not even fair to compare others to him.

Steamy scene grade: XXXX. Not fair at all.

Happily-Ever-After: Very good, because it ends on a happy note after Eve (with Roarke) catches the bad guys. But a guest star in the series, 89-year-old Charity, makes catching the bad guys even more fun.

Across the Page: New Fall Fiction - The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell

From AfterEllen --

Across the Page: New Fall Fiction - The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell --

by Heather Aimee O. --
October 28, 2009 --

Out author Patricia Cornwell’s latest release, The Scarpetta Factor, opens with the formidable Dr. Kay Scarpetta at the New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. She has just finished her third autopsy of the day: a woman in her mid-twenties named Toni Darien who was found raped and murdered by the edge of Central Park shortly before dawn.

The case should be straightforward, but the condition of Darien’s body does not fit with the details of the crime.

As Scarpetta works to figure out exactly what happened, we get an inside look into all of the major players in the investigation: Lucy Farinelli, Scarpetta’s lesbian niece, whose lover Jamie Berger is the Assistant District Attorney on the case; Benton Wesley, Scarpetta’s husband and a forensic psychologist whose patient may be connected to the crime; and detective Pete Marino who is now working as an investigator for Berger.

Scarpetta is also trying to manage her new role as a Senior Forensic Analyst for CNN — she is a contributor to Carley Crispin’s show, The Crispin Report. Her aim is to educate the public, who believe that forensic science is accurately portrayed in shows like CSI. But the role is more stressful than rewarding, as Crispin breaks their agreement and asks questions about cases that Scarpetta is currently working on and can’t discuss.

Though Scarpetta still doubts the details of Darien’s case, Marino wonders if she is the one who’s mistaken: “He’d seen it happen time and again, people believe their own press and quit doing the real work, and they f--- up and make fools of themselves.”

But soon Scarpetta’s team begins to connect the Darien case with Hannah Star, a beautiful and extremely wealthy heiress, and a movie star named Hap Judd, who Lucy and Berger are investigating.

In the midst of the investigation, Cornwell also weaves tension throughout the relationships: Marino doubts Scarpetta’s analysis; Wesley is unable to tell his wife about his past; and Lucy and Berger are suspicious of each, though not for the right reasons.

Cornwell is the number one crime novelist in the world and her attention to detail and her ability to bring the latest forensic science into the story are both remarkable.

If you’re looking for a good crime mystery, with just a touch of lesbian intrigue, pick it up.

A second dose of the fabulous freakish truth (Patricia Cornwell)

From London City AM --

A second dose of the fabulous freakish truth --

29th October 2009 --

EVERY crime book these days seems to be a “bestseller” but one writer who in a league of her own is Patricia Cornwell, who counts Demi Moore among her friends and has a past that includes a drunk driving conviction, a lesbian marriage, anorexia and an abusive relationship with her late father. More importantly, her crime writing is based on genuine experience, first as a crime reporter, then as founder of the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine.

Cornwell’s onto her 17th Kay Scarpetta novel and the heroine – a forensic specialist – is just as stressed and hard-nosed as ever, as rigorous in her analysis of the bodies that come her way as some women might be with a potential pair of new Jimmy Choos. It’s the week before Christmas and the recession has prompted Dr Scarpetta to offer her services pro bono to the New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

In doing so she sets an unsettling chain of events in motion, starting with the suspicious bomb-like parcel waiting at her apartment after she makes an appearance on a chat show to discuss a sensational case. She soon finds herself in a dark plot involving a famous actor accused of a heinous sex crime and the disappearance of a beautiful millionaire.

Cornwell is a master of detail and the lurid business of crime and death in New York is skillfully integrated with a complex, shocking plot and a deeply sympathetic heroine. Cornwell fans will settle right in, newcomers won’t believe what they’ve been missing. Zoe Strimpel

20 questions for author Patricia Cornwell

From The Olympian --

20 questions for author Patricia Cornwell --

Published October 28, 2009 --

Award-winning, international best-selling author Patricia Cornwell has seen her meticulously researched crime novels translated into 36 languages across more than 50 countries. The former police beat reporter scuba dives, rides motorcycles and flies helicopters - just like her characters do.

"It is important to me to live in the world I write about," she said. Her energy seems as boundless as her interests.

Cornwell's most recent Scarpetta series, "The Scarpetta Factor" (Penguin), publishes this month.

PopMatters 20 Questions caught up with this engaging, enthusiastic author in a rare moment when her feet were on the ground.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Off the top of my head, "Fried Green Tomatoes." I happened to catch it on TV the other night, and it always makes me cry. Although I saw "Atonement" recently and cried.

And oh, well, you'd be amazed by how many movies make me cry. Including extremely happy or hilariously funny ones ("Pretty Woman," "Blades of Glory") ... Maybe it's because I have to be so stoical most of the time.

2. The fictional character most like you?

There isn't one that seems obvious, not even in my own work, although there are pieces and parts of me in many of my characters. For example, Pete Marino is a slob and often makes snap judgments that he regrets. Hate to say it, but I can relate.

In contrast, Scarpetta is thoughtful, deliberate, impeccable, which is my fantasy. However, both of us have a visceral aversion to cruelty and abuse of power, and we can be much more volatile behind the scenes than the public might imagine. (You'll see that in "The Scarpetta Factor," when she has a bit of a meltdown with Benton inside their New York apartment.)

Lucy loves all things powerful, in part because she is so afraid of being powerless. I confess that I can understand how she feels. But the obvious difference between the two of us (besides her youthfulness and sculpted beauty) is she's better at everything than I am. However, I don't pick up strangers in bars (at least not in recent memory, not that anybody would be interested), kill people, or in general think it's all right to break the law as long as there's a good reason.

3. The greatest album, ever?

"Rumours." Fleetwood Mac is astonishingly talented. Mick Fleetwood playing the drums - what a rush.

4. "Star Trek" or "Star Wars"?

"Star Trek." I hero-worshipped Captain Kirk and would have left my childhood hometown of Montreat, N.C., without regrets or looking back, had he offered to beam me up. I wouldn't have even asked for a background check of his crew or worried about going to college.

For one thing, it was the uniforms. I probably shouldn't let this out, but I love uniforms and think it's unfair that writers not only don't get to wear them but are expected to dress poorly. I also wanted a phaser. And still do. And I can relate to being harassed and fired at rather chronically by Klingons.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Research is what feeds my brain and gives me my best ideas. In fact, it's as if the story is waiting for me if only I will go looking for it, whether the journey takes me to a morgue or a rare-documents archive or ... as you'll see in "The Scarpetta Factor," a bowling alley.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Being a helicopter pilot. Because very little I've ever tried to learn made me feel so insecure and scared. And I adore helicopters. And dragonflies and hummingbirds.

7. You want to be remembered for ...?

Inspiring people and kindness. And, yes, creating Scarpetta, whom I wish I knew. What a cool person to have as a friend and adviser - if she existed, I mean. (She doesn't, does she?)

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Those who have had the courage to be truthful and humane, despite the cost, and have passion. Billie Jean King comes to mind.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Anything by Dr. Seuss.

10. Your hidden talents ...?

Cartoons, tennis, but I'm more than a little rusty now and couldn't have made a living doing either. When I was a kid, I was the first person picked to create any sort of poster needed for a school function, whether it was a bulletin board or campaign banner or something for a pep rally. I was especially good at drawing Snoopy and Snuffy Smith.

This blossomed into my illustrious career as the cartoonist for the Davidson College newspaper. Those cartoons were original, but so forgettable I can't give an example. I do remember drawing a number of caricatures of professors and various other important people, and these, too, were published and probably resulted in a tarnishing of my popularity with faculty and those who might have advanced my opportunities in life.

As for tennis, I learned in Montreat by hitting dead balls I fished out of the creek on a backboard built on the side of a machine shop. I taught myself, and it showed. I got ranked as high as 10 in North Carolina, and also played on my high-school boys team and never lost a match - or developed a net game, because if I crept beyond the service line I was likely to get smacked rather hard with the ball.

My dream was to be a pro and get to play with Billie Jean King. Now Billie Jean is a wonderful friend, and she has let me play doubles with her on occasion (out of pity).

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

"Write. You do that better than anything else." A high-school English teacher.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My first word processor in 1981 (I bought it), so I didn't have to use a typewriter to write my first published book (a biography).

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ...?

What I call my "work clothes," which are basically tactical-type cargo pants and shirts with the Scarpetta crest and lots of pockets.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Allen Ginsberg, although we'd go to some great Italian restaurant - well, let's be specific: Il Cantinori in New York or Davide in Boston. I like wonderful food and service and quiet - am not into the "see and be seen" deal.

I am such a fan of poets, and he's special to me because when I was in college I did a term paper on Black Mountain College, and I was naive enough to write letters to all sorts of famous artists associated with that place, such as Ginsberg, and darn if some of them didn't write me back. His letter in particular was outrageous, profane, and long, and I couldn't believe he would take the time to write a little nothing college student like me. I wish I could take him to dinner and thank him, and explain that his various uses of the f-word wouldn't shock me now the way they did back then.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Any place where I could have met Lincoln, especially if I could have somehow kept him from going to the theater on Good Friday in 1865.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

None of the above. Solitude with a gorgeous water view, where I can write. And exercise. I love to walk and listen to music.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or ...?


18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

City on the water. I love the Boston Harbor. I also love Hilton Head.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Thank you for sacrificing every aspect of your personal life for the rest of us. And I hope I meet you someday.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Something I wasn't planning on, but I had such a fantastic experience with the Lifetime filming of "At Risk" and "The Front," I've decided to write a third Win Garano story. I am doing that even as we speak (partly set in Salem, Mass.).

In addition, I have begun research on the next "Scarpetta" (don't mean to tease, but in it I will reveal a secret about her past that might just stun you).

A must for the ‘True Blood’ fan (Charlaine Harris)

From Graffiti --

A must for the ‘True Blood’ fan --

By Amy Mendenhall --
October 27, 2009 --

Need a True Blood fix? Fear not, for New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris has released a collection of short stories starring Sookie Stackhouse in “A Touch of Dead.”

In five short stories to go along with the books, Harris explores a bit more of the world of Sookie, the telepath waitress who regularly is in the company of vampires, werewolves, fairies and plenty of trouble. In the introduction, the author tells the reader the time period each of the stories takes place in, and each story is accompanied by a wonderful illustration.

The first one, “Fairy Dust,” follows Sookie as she investigates a whodunit concerning Claude and Claudette’s (who knew they were triplets?) sister. While Sookie must use her telepathic powers on the humans the fairies have captured that they believe are suspects, she also must use her own deductive reasoning. And when the culprit is finally found, Sookie learns just how dangerous fairies can be when you cross them.

In my favorite story of the collection, “Dracula Night,” Sookie is invited to a big celebration at Fangtasia, Eric’s vampire bar. It’s the annual celebration of Dracula’s “birthday” and Eric has spared no expense in prepping for the festivities, hoping against hope that this is the year the Master will show up at the party in his honor. When someone finally does show up claiming to be Dracula, and everything breaks loose, Sookie finds herself in danger, go figure, and dressed to kill.

This is my favorite story due to the humor Harris’ injects into the situation and it also concerns two of my favorite characters, Eric and his second-in-command, Pam.

In “One Word Answer,” a late-night visitor notifies Sookie of a relative’s death. And while the “lawyer” informs Sookie that she now has a legacy due to her vampire relative’s death, it probably is not what Sookie is expecting.

Vampire Bill makes an appearance in this one, as well as one of my favorite secondary characters, Bubba, who happens to be the undead version of someone very famous.

Sookie also has a meeting with royalty in this short story.

In “Lucky,” Sookie is once again called on to use her detective skills to solve who is messing with an insurance agent’s business. Along with her witch friend, Amelia, Sookie tracks down the lead suspects, has a run-in with a vampire and an ex, and runs afoul of a magic spell or two.

Finally, in “Gift Wrap,” Sookie is facing spending Christmas alone this year. Wishing she had something to occupy her time, Sookie opens her door to find a hurt werewolf outside, a rival group of werewolves out to get him, and now has a hunk to spend the holidays with.

It’s all very romantic and unexpected for Sookie, but we the readers get to find out the real story behind it all.

The stories have all appeared in various short story collections previously, but are now available in one package for the Sookie Stackhouse fan. While fans of the television series may need to familiarize themselves with the books before reading (there are spoilers throughout these), this book is a must for any true fan.

Interview, Chat and Contest with Author Charlaine Harris

From Bitten by Books --

Interview, Chat and Contest with Author Charlaine Harris --

by Site Hostess --
22 October 2009 --

A big welcome to our readers today! Be sure to read to the end of the interview to find out how to WIN the fabulous prizes being offered up.


Hi Charlaine!

Welcome to Bitten by Books, we are excited to have you here today!

I would like to thank you taking the time to join us for the question and answer session with our readers. It has been very interesting to get to know more about you and what makes you tick as a writer! Readers, if you haven’t done so already please stop by and get your copy of Charlaine’s newest book A Touch of Dead.

BBB: What are the most challenging and the most rewarding aspects of writing?

CH: Challenges? Every day is a challenge. I hate to use a sea metaphor, but being a writer is like being the entire crew of a large ship. To extend that, when you reach your destination in one piece . . . that’s a great reward.

BBB: Do you consider different books paranormal romance or urban fantasy? and do you think it is important to distinguish between the two?

CH: It’s not important to me personally, no. But to the people shelving the books it’s quite important, because readers are looking for a book skewed more to romance or more to adventure, and they want to look in the right place.

BBB: Do you feel that the South provides a particularly rich setting for vampire and other paranormal fiction?

CH: I’ve read great paranormal fiction set all over the world, so I don’t think so. We southern writers do like to present the South with a flourish, though.

BBB: What is the most ridiculous thing that you have thought about doing to any of your characters but never did?

CH: I think I’d better keep mum on that.

BBB: You mentioned in an another interview that you know who Sookie will end up with. Can you tell us how long we have to wait to find out? Or, you know, maybe a hint? : )

CH: No.

BBB: How do you keep track of your world building?

CH: Not very well. Actually, I’ve had to hire a couple of people to help me on continuity. After this many books in the series, I may blank out on some bit of business I did five years ago, say.

BBB: What do you feel are the benefits of the new electronic readers such as Kindle 2 or Sony Digital Book Reader to the environment?

CH: I know my agent loves his, because he gets so many submissions it cuts way back on hauling a ton of paper around. And I see people on vacation very happy at having so many books at their fingertips without having to pack them. I myself still prefer to hold a book.

BBB: What impact do electronic readers create on the bottom line for authors in the end? Do you feel they have a negative impact or positive, or no impact at all that you can see?

CH: I’m sure they’re going to have an impact, but I’m not sure what it’ll be in the long run.

BBB: What one thing would you change about the TV series if you could?

CH: Honestly, I can’t think of a thing. I am so pleased with the way it’s going, it would be ridiculous of me to want more.

BBB: What else do you currently have in the works? When can we expect your next book?

CH: A Harper Connelly comes out later this month, the collection of Sookie short stories just came out and it’s doing well, DEATH’S EXCELLENT VACATION with an original Sookie story will be out next August, and Dead in the Family will be out next May.

BBB: Have we seen the last of Alcide?

CH: Gosh, no.

BBB: Will we ever see anymore of the fae???

CH: Yes.

BBB: Where do you see the urban fantasy genre headed? Can you see it slowing down in the near future, or do you think that the immediate future is pretty bright for it?

CH: I see no signs of a slowdown. It’s an exciting genre with some fantastic talent.

BBB: if you had to choose for yourself, would it be Bill or Eric? Or Sam?

CH: Fortunately for me, I get all three.

BBB: How do you navigate the actual story writing, e.g. do you pre-plot it all out, get the main details and pantz it, divide up chapters, etc.?

CH: Ha! I wish I were that organized. I just flex my fingers and go.

BBB: Soooooooooooooo which vampire was Sookie’s great-grandfather referring to in the last book?

CH: Mum on that one.

BBB: Do you have any plans for book signings/ readings anytime soon? If so, where can our readers find you?

CH: All they have to do is check my Calendar on my website to find out where I’ll be, and when.

BBB: If you could choose to be either a shapeshifter or vampire for eternity, which would you choose and why? Or would you be some other creature?

CH: I like being human, actually.

BBB: Did you ever in your wildest dreams ever think your series would become such a huge success and the show as well?

CH: No, I did not. It’s been a wonderful ride.

Cornwell top author of forensic science novels

From The Daily American --

Cornwell top author of forensic science novels --

October 20, 2009 --

It is the week before Christmas and Dr. Kay Scarpetta has offered her medical examiner services to New York City for free because of the economy.

She is scheduled to appear on a talk show on CNN. As part of her contract with CNN, the host knows not to ask her about active cases, but does so anyway. The show’s producer wants Scarpetta to have her own talk show, but she isn’t interested.

Scarpetta is investigating the death of Toni Darien, 26, who was murdered while jogging. The case Scarpetta is asked about on the air is the disappearance of Hannah Star, a financial whiz who is presumed dead. Moments after the telecast, Scarpetta receives an ominous package - which may be a bomb.

Her posse is back in this, the 17th novel in the series: Her husband, Benton Wesley, her niece, Lucy, a computer genius, and former cop Pete Marino.

Nobody writes better forensic novels than Patricia Cornwell, and this one of her best. A great plot, tense development and excellent characters. After 20 years of Scarpella novels, the characters have become a cast of old friends. Maybe they don’t always act correctly - witness Marino’s earlier alcoholic blackout - but that makes them more real.

Reviews of New Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Comics - Kindred in Death (J.D. Robb)

From Publishers Weekly --

Reviews of New Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Comics - Kindred in Death --

9/14/2009 --

New York City law officers have more technological weapons at their disposal in bestseller Robb's snappy near-future series, but so do criminals, including the sadistic rapist killer who strikes down Deena MacMasters, the 16-year-old daughter of police captain Jonah MacMasters, in the 30th full-length novel to feature homicide detective Lt. Eve Dallas (after Promises in Death). MacMasters specifically asks that Dallas, who has a knack for clever insights and deductions, lead the investigation into his daughter's murder. An impressive team of professionals—augmented by Dallas's husband, Roarke, and his young protégé, Jaime Lingstrom—begins the arduous task of collecting and analyzing data. Clues suggest Deena may not be the only victim targeted by her killer and increase the pressure on Dallas and her cohorts. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) combines sex, horrific crime, forensics and technological wizardry for another winner sure to please her many fans. (Nov.)

‘Fifteen’ is Evanovich at her (almost) best

From Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier --

‘Fifteen’ is Evanovich at her (almost) best --

By Amie Steffen --
August 20, 2009 --

“Sometimes it was good not to have a lot of expensive stuff,” muses narrator and main character Stephanie Plum nearly two-thirds of the way through “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen.” “Less to feel bad about when it got firebombed.”

For those who know the antics of Plum from Janet Evanovich’s previous 14 novels on the New Jersey bounty hunter (no, I do not count the between-the-numbers books), this quote is not so much telling, but reassuring. Plum is back — and so is the hilarious trouble that befalls her.

It’s difficult to sustain a series for at least 15 books, and some fans I’ve talked to were disillusioned by a few of Evanovich’s latest books. But those people also told me that the author was back on her game for “Fifteen,” and I’m inclined to agree.

The story starts out when Lula, former streetwalker and wannabe bounty hunter, barges into the office to report she saw a guy get his head chopped off while she was sitting in her car. It turns out that guy was a celebrity chef, in town for a barbeque cook-off.

When someone puts out a million-dollar reward for the capture of his killers, Lula thinks they’ll be at the cook-off and decides to enter the barbeque contest, even though she doesn’t cook. (Picture scenes with Lula exploding pressure cookers and setting her hat — and everything else — on fire.)

Meanwhile, Stephanie’s love life is, unfortunately for readers, pretty nonexistent. She and Trenton cop Joe Morelli are off-again because of an argument about peanut butter. But because of several factors, including working a gig at Rangeman, Stephanie does end up spending several nights in the luxurious apartment — and bed — of her other love interest, Ranger. Sadly, however, most of those nights she spends only sleeping.

That’s a downer for me, because the last time I remember Stephanie hanging out in Ranger’s bed it was a lot steamier. Though she usually tones down the descriptions, Evanovich inserts plenty of playfulness, touching and dirty talk in most of the books, usually involving Stephanie and Morelli or Ranger. There’s a few kisses from Ranger, but in “Fifteen,” they feel platonic, like they’re obviously not leading anywhere.

Don’t get me wrong — Evanovich still weaves a clever story, filled with the hilarity we’re accustomed to reading from her. But with Stephanie on the unnaturally chaste side, “Fifteen” seems one ingredient short of finger-lickin’ good.