Fans of "CSI" or forensic-centric crime novels might not realize that the person who started the craze for forensic fiction is still one of today's most popular authors: Patricia Cornwell, the creator of medical examiner Kay Scarpetta.
BookPage contributor Jay MacDonald interviewed Cornwell about her new Scarpetta novel, Port Mortuary, for our December issue. Their conversation provides a fascinating glimpse at the growth of the genre, how Cornwell does her research and how her novels have evolved.
You can get more info on the plot of the new book—and find out what "port mortuary" means—in today's featured trailer:
Port Mortuary comes out today. Who's reading it? What's your favorite Scarpetta novel?
Also in BookPage: Browse reviews of Cornwell's books.
Today the Book Case welcomes author C.J. Lyons, whose Angels of Mercy series (Jove) has added a jolt to the genre of medical suspense. The conclusion to the four-book series, Critical Condition, hits stores December 7, 2010, and Lyons stopped by to tell us a little bit about the difficulty of letting go of characters she—and her readers—had come to love.
When I sat down to start writing the final book in my Angels of Mercy medical suspense series, I had a play list running through my mind, filled with sad songs of goodbye, everything from Motown to Staind. After all, I'd spent three years with these four ladies. I'd watched them grow, fall in and out of love, save patients, dodge bullets, make mistakes, and fight for their lives. And now it was time to say goodbye.
When I began the first in the series, Lifelines, I had no idea how the book would end, much less the entire series. By book #2, Warning Signs, I had an idea, but it turned out to be wrong. Then I wrote book #3, Urgent Care, and it had an ending that surprised even me, one that totally changed how the series would conclude.
I began writing Critical Condition knowing only who would be left standing in the end. But I had no idea how they all would get there—and the main character, Gina, had a heck of a lot of growing up to do to earn her bittersweet happy ending. The only other thing I knew was that Critical Condition was, just like Gina's life, going to be an adrenalin-rushed hyper-driven thrill ride. Think Die Hard in a hospital.
So I wrote the book backwards. Literally. Wrote a scene, knew who was still alive in the scene, and figured out how they got there in order to write the next scene (which was really the previous scene, if that makes sense). The book ended up being so tightly paced that it reads in "real time" with the entire action taking place in five hours.
It didn't make it any easier to say goodbye to the women of Angels of Mercy Medical Center, but starting with their "happily-ever-afters" as I wrote Critical Condition, helped.
From the amount of fan mail I receive, I'm sure these women will continue to live on in the hearts of my readers for a long time to come. Who knows? Maybe they'll return someday to save their world again.
If so, I'll be ready and waiting, humming some Motown to welcome them home. Because, as a writer, you never really say goodbye to your characters, they become a part of you.
Thanks, CJ! We can't wait to see what you come up with in the new series you'll be writing with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, visit her website.
The year's scariest holiday is right around the corner. If you're looking for a book to get you in the Halloween spirit, allow us to offer up a few off-the-beaten-path ideas from the BookPage Archives.
Book trailers have come a long way—as we've seen with the videos we highlight every week on Trailer Tuesday—but sometimes the simplest route is the best. In this video from Penguin, John le Carré reads an excerpt from his latest book, Our Kind of Traitor (read the BookPage review). His dramatic performance, complete with accents, is a pleasure to listen to.
Of course, book trailer diehards can always turn to the more conventional video for the book from le Carré's New Zealand publisher:
Which approach do you prefer?
After editing five crime anthologies, Rosemary Herbert joins the mystery-writing ranks with her first novel, Front Page Teaser (Down East Books).
Describe your book in one sentence.
Set in Boston, and following the adventures of a gutsy, underdog, tabloid newspaper reporter on the trail of a missing mom, Front Page Teaser: A Liz Higgins Mystery is not just a fast-paced puzzler, but a love song to the news reporting life.
What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?
“Think tabloid.” My first editor at the Boston Herald told me this with a wink, because she did not mean to suggest that I write as if I were reporting for the National Enquirer. What she did mean was to cut to the chase, keep the pace lively, write with attitude and verve, and especially to get to the heart of the matter. When I was young, my creative writing teacher, Mr. Alfred Haulenbeek, told me to believe in myself and to “grow in the appreciation of fine language.” Put these pieces of advice together and you have a winning combination.
How would you earn a living if you weren't a writer?
As a librarian. I have worked as a reference librarian at Harvard University and as a children’s librarian in Maine. In fact, subplot in Front Page Teaser is drawn from my library experience. When my reporter-sleuth Liz Higgins asks librarians to reveal the reading habits of a missing woman, the librarians stand as bastions protecting the privacy of library patron circulation records. I added this to my book as a tribute to librarians and librarianship.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
Being nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America for The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing. I served as editor-in-chief for this volume.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one fictional character, who would you want it to be?
Nancy Drew. I’m sure she would get us out of the desert island “scrape” with pluck and aplomb. Meanwhile, we could trade some clever sleuthing clues.
What are you reading now?
Tony Hillerman’s Landscapes (Harper) by his daughter, Anne Hillerman, with photographs by Don Strel. Because Tony Hillerman is not here to celebrate the recent paperback publication of our book A New Omnibus of Crime (Oxford University Press), I have been missing him. Anne’s book makes me feel closer to Tony and his work.
The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
Pamela Dorman • $26.95 • ISBN 9780670022403
On sale January 10, 2011
In this excerpt, Karen has just met and agreed to tutor the captivating Biba, sister to Rex, and they've gone to seal the deal in the university bar. Kelly sets the scene while maintaining suspense, never letting the reader forget that the book is moving toward a dark revelation:
"Can you buy a bottle of red, darling? A Merlot if they've got it," she said, and I wondered how someone whose voice and bag suggested an expensive education and a credit card could be too poor to afford student bar prices. "It's so much cheaper than by the glass, and we won't have to keep going to the bar." Red wine had always given me headaches, but I ordered it then, and because Biba and Rex drank little else, I trained myself to like it that summer. I have never had a sip of it since, though. For me, the bouquet of rich red wine is now indivisible from another smell, metallic and warm and meaty all at once, one that summons up a slideshow of frozen images in my mind like a series of photographs in a police incident room.
Here's one item we can guarantee will be found under many readers' trees this holiday season: a boxed set of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. Packaged in a slipcase, the three books include maps and beautifully designed endpapers. The set also includes On Stieg Larsson, a collection of essays about and correspondence with the author. Retail price is $99, and you can buy them on November 26.
Either of these on your gift list—or wish list!—this year?
For example: Patricia Cornwell will publish two more Kay Scarpetta novels with Putnam. The 18th book in the series, Port Mortuary, hits stores on November 30.
Any predictions on what'll happen to Scarpetta in future novels? Here's a (vague) hint: The Boston Herald reported on August 6 that Cornwell visited the New England Aquarium to do research for a novel. She "toured the marine animal rescue facilities and attended a seal-training session."
What with Lifetime's adaptations of At Risk and The Front and news that Angelina Jolie will play Scarpetta on the big screen, it's been a busy year for Patricia Cornwell.
Are you still into the series after all these books? Will you read Port Mortuary?
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Vince Flynn and Brian Haig, both known for their political thriller prowess, are joining forces for a new series featuring the members of a NYC-based anti-terror operation.
“I’ve been a fan of Brian’s writing since his first book Secret Sanction and I’m excited to join forces with him on a project so close to my heart,” Flynn says. Haig is a retired US Army lieutenant colonel and formerly worked as an assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
No word yet on when this project will hit bookshelves, but thriller fans should watch this space.
Is there something about the last name "Patterson" that gives you automatic thriller writer credentials? Maybe. According to audio columnist Sukey Howard, Richard North Patterson's courtroom scenes, "with their edgy retorts and rebuttals, showcase the immediacy and emotional force of a good audio performance." His latest book, In the Name of Honor, is her top audio pick for this month.
Read the full review here. Have you heard any good audiobooks lately?