NEW YORK Medical examiner Kay Scarpetta receives a short video clip by email but the closing image of a severed ear is enough to start her investigating the disappearance of a woman paleontologist from a dinosaur dig 2,000 miles away in Alberta, Canada.
Patricia Cornwell's new book, "The Bone Bed", which was released this month, is the 20th novel featuring the currently Massachusetts-based Scarpetta and her cast of supporting characters.
Scarpetta is initially puzzled by the video but soon suspects a connection to gruesome crimes much closer to home even as she deals with problems in her closest personal circle.
Award winning Cornwell, 56, is the former director of applied forensic science at the National Forensic Academy and a member of the Advisory Board for the Forensic Sciences Training Program at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, New York City.
The author of 19 previous Scarpetta novels and five non-Scarpetta books, the Miami-born Cornwell lives in Boston with her partner and their four-year old British bull dog "Tram".
Cornwell talked to Reuters about her affection for Scarpetta and the inspiration and ideas for her books.
Q: How did you arrive at the Scarpetta series?
A: "Scarpetta walked into my life in the 1980's at a time no one wanted to write about these things and she has evolved over the years. She is a character I enjoy working with and I am not bored with her."
Q: What prompted this particular plot?
A: "I got a call from Dan and Donna Akroyd, saying they were going on a dino (dinosaur) dig and they asked us to go. I said to my partner, 'How do you say 'no' to that?' It was in Alberta, Canada very close to Alaska. No electricity, very muddy, very rainy. I thought, 'Oh boy, someone could get murdered here,' and, of course, that is what happened."
Q: How do you bring in perpetrators?
A: "It's an organic thing. I don't know who it's going to be. I work a story as if I am working a case and not all the answers are up. A great deal of the suspense for the reader comes as the reader is feeling what I am feeling."
Q: Why crime writing?
A: "I became immersed in it after graduation. I worked for the Charlotte Observer and they promoted me to the police beat. I had no exposure and I didn't even want the job. Bad hours, in your car at all hours of the night but I got into it. Today, if Scarpetta dons a dry suit to untangle a body, I don a dry suit. Whatever it is, within reason, I try to do it."
Q: Is anything autobiographical in your books?
A: "There is always something, some experience of mine. Something I like to cook is something Scarpetta is cooking. When I went to the dinosaur dig, I didn't have any idea of writing about it. It's a tapestry woven in by life and what I know about other people."
Q: Who was your biggest influence as a writer?
A: "Hemingway. I think he's so physical in how he describes the world he inhabited. I like to have one of his books on my desk. I want my reader to have that palpable experience -- to be in the rain or on a boat. I try to learn from people who are really good at what they do."
Q: Why do you write?
A: "I started writing as a little kid. It was a coping mechanism for me. I loved my imagination. I loved drawing pictures, making little books as a kid, writing poetry. It was only when I went to college I thought, 'It's right under your nose what you love to do.' If I don't do it for long periods of time, I am really not happy."
Q: Do you still enjoy book tours and signings?
A: "I do. I get tired. You do 25 interviews in a one day, you fight not to lose your voice. But it's validation to meet these people. I am very fond of my fans and thank them for reading my books."
(Reporting By Nick Olivari; editing by Patricia Reaney)