Flashback Thursday/ Why I Stop Reading Cornwell

I wrote this post a few years ago and recently read it again when a friend asked me if I read Cornwell latest book. She’s a fan. I told her I haven’t changed my mind about this author. 

Patricia Cornwell  is a New York Times bestselling and contemporary American crime writer that is widely known for her popular series of crime novels featuring her world famous heroine Dr. Kay Scarpetta a medical examiner. The series has brought her world-wide success as well as numerous Awards. She is the only author to receive these awards in a single year. Edgar Award, John Creasey Memorial Award, Anthony Award, Macavity Award for her first novel Postmortem in 1991. Sherlock Award for best Detective, Gold Dagger 1993, British Book Awards’ Crime thriller of the Year 2008 (the only American to win this award) and RBA International Thriller Prize 2011 for her last book RED MIST. As well as a host of other awards.

THE Book:     PORT MORTUARY     

This was the author’s 18th book, in the 20 year series, about her award winning Dr. Kay Scarpetta. The book is seen through Scarpetta’s eyes written in the first person. She hasn’t done this since her 2000 book Last Precinct. (Good book)

After spending six months at Dover Air force base learning Computer Topography-assisted virtual autopsies Dr. Scarpetta is called back home to Massachusetts. ( The last book she lived in New York, what happened) The circumstances surrounding a young man first thought to have died of a heart attack are in question when the body begins to bleed out in the morgue at the Cambridge Forensic Center in Massachusetts that’s a joint venture with the state and federal governments, the military, MIT and Harvard. Scarpetta is once again the Head and Chief Medical Examiner of the facility. The questions are, was the man alive when he was shut up in the cooler and if so why wasn’t anyone aware of this fact? Namely Jack Fielding.

While Dr. Kay investigates the young man’s bizarre injures trying to prevent a scandal that could affect the facility even before it can get off the ground. She gets bombarded with information about another case from the usual characters, Lucy, her niece, Benton Wesley her husband and FBI agent ( rejoin the FBI in last book) and Pete Marino colleague and friend  As Dr. Kay delves deeper into the young man’s death she begins to see a connection with that of a child killed when someone hammered nails into his head. The professed killer of the boy is one of Benton’s patients.

While she was gone Dr. Kay put her friend and second in command Jack Fielding in charge. Unbeknownst to her the facility has had a barrage of mistake upon mistakes. She plans to correct this and set the facility back on track as she comes face to face with the chaos of Fielding’s during. She vows to get to the bottom of this but Jack Fielding is AOL. No one has seen him or knows where he is.

Cornwell wants the reader to feel the exhaustion that Dr. Kay must feel as she tries to solve these cases over a few days without sleep, little food, one shower and no change of clothing. ( Her words) She begins to distrust the people closest to her believing they are not telling her everything, (as usual) While going through a snow storm shut up in the facility looking through a microscope, while other seasoned investigator, foolishly solve the case and she must come to the scene to correct them.

Cornwell presents another psychotic villain (not her psychotic niece this time, Blow Fly) that also did the usual at the end while exploring unusual technology. All in all the same thing yet again, but she did happen to give an insight into Dr. Kay’s psyche that might help to explain her nature in more ways than one.

My Reason

In the start of the book a bereaved, disgruntle mother of a died African American solider killed in the War calls her a racist. (Loud Black woman on the phone!) That sparks Dr. Kay to began to feel guilty about an autopsy she performed in the early part of her career, while in the Airforce working off student loans,on two White girls in South Africa that appeared to be a hate crime predicated by Black Africans. Huh. My guess is that Cornwell wants to dispel the notion that she’s not a racist with this somehow.

I had to stop reading  Ms. Cornwell’s books just for this reason. She figure out that it was in fact staged to look as if Black Africans killed the girls. In this story she didn’t voice her suspicions to her commanders ( there is always a chain of command) nor did she go about finding what Africans were wrong because of her actions. Africans that were still being abused and killed under Apartheid rule by the way. Oh, let me be fair she did call the parents of one of the White girls to let them know the truth. Thank goodness for that, but never turned over the evidence she kept for years. She didn’t even condemn Apartheid or our government’s part in it. She just wrote there was a connection to the deaths, but she kept saying in the book, I’m not racist. Why write that? Just to keep saying that means you are.  It’s like a child saying ‘I didn’t do that’ when in fact you know that they did.

I’ve read all of the books in her Scarpetta series up to now and found that her depictions of African Americans have been Mammy/Whore or gardener/con if they are mentioned at all. I have yet to see her work with or our address an African American or any other ethnic group in Dr. Kay’s work environment as an equals, or in her life without them being in a service role of some kind.

Oh, I forget the African American rich business man that she describe as a man that could play basketball who own a stable of horses and was sleeping around with young white women. Wow!

In that book Dr. Kay thought he might have burned down his barn full of his own horses and killed a white girl. She openly said it but she didn’t want to ruin his name. Sorry,I forgot about this regal black man, that she pondered was corrupted. I’m told she has this half white black guy (Win Garano) she writes about. So I guess she’s not racist then? But like I said I’ve decided to stop reading her books so I wouldn’t know.

Don’t get me wrong, her first books were good, but in all her years in the field Dr. Kay has never made friends with anyone of color? Also, check out the time line of Lucy’s age. In the first book , Postmorem she’s 10 while Dr. Kay is about 40.  Twenty years later in Scarpetta, Lucy is over 30 and Dr. Kay is just 48 there-a-bouts, right. There are other discrepancies that are too many to put in this blog.

So why did I read this book? A friend read it and wanted my opinion. Now you have it. I didn’t like it.

I know I didn’t turn any of her fan-base away, to them she’s still an American icon.

This is just my humble opinion.

So there you have it, if you have a point to make or just think I’m wrong, please let me hear it, perhaps my mind can be changed. Perhaps.
Copyright © 2013 Glynis Rankin


  1. I stopped reading Patricia Cornwell ages ago, but never noticed the race thing in the books. I just got fed up with all the usual characters and Scarpetta’s personal life becoming more important than the solving of the crimes. I can’t stand Lucy and Benton is irritating as well.

    1. I know!
      Why did she have to incorporate so much of her personal life. A little goes a long way.

      Lucy is a cold blooded killer! Plus her sulking about her life and loves in every book grew tiring.

      Benton died, he was gone and I have to say I thought it was not a good ending for him, he was dead. She watch too much Dallas!

      What about her friend cop nearly raping her. Really!

      I had to stop. Thanks Christina, I’m glad I’m not alone in this.

  2. her husband Bernard Cornwell writes brilliant historical fiction, in one of his books is a black character i think by the name of Sagrimore, it’s not known where he comes from, but he fights on the side of Wessex and is very heroic 🙂

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