Patricia Cornwell never runs out of ideas for her intrepid forensic investigator, Kay Scarpetta.
“Cybercrime is now a really big deal, and so Scarpetta is inevitably going to get involved in crimes that have to do with the Internet, or the high technology with communications,” the author said.
“I also have to look at the types of weapons that are available now, because those might be used in one of her cases, whether an extremely high-tech firearm or it could be a very bizarre knife of some kind an assassin might use, or poison.”
Cornwell talked about invented crime, true crime and the facts and fiction behind her 21st Scarpetta novel, “Dust,” which has just been published. The novel is a characteristically tangled mystery that begins with the discovery of a young woman’s body at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. On her body is a mysterious residue, dust that becomes colorfully visible under ultraviolet light and leads Scarpetta on a hunt for the truth.
The plot of “Dust” is imaginary, but the book includes some references to crimes in the headlines. The 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., happened while Cornwell was working on “Dust,” and when the author realized they took place near Scarpetta’s fictional office, she made sure that Scarpetta volunteered to help on the crime scene. “Dust” also refers to the Wall Street scandals of recent years. The murder victim in “Dust” had a pending lawsuit against her former financial managers, the kind of legal battle Cornwell learned firsthand after suing a financial firm and earlier this year being awarded nearly $51 million by a federal jury.
“Regardless of my personal situation about having your trust violated in a financial situation, I think there’s been a lot of people in our society who have been appalled by the abuses in the financial industry,” Cornwell says.
Cornwell describes Scarpetta as one of those curious souls who never relents on a case. Scarpetta shares Cornwell’s “very analytical mind,” the author explains.
Cornwell keeps up on crime fiction and recently reread Thomas Harris’ “The Silence of the Lambs.” She admires him as an innovator on the narrative use of forensic science and finds that the carnivorous Hannibal Lecter is less frightening to her than the recent perpetrators of mass shootings in Newton; Aurora, Colo.; and elsewhere.
“This is going to sound crazy,” she says. “But when you’ve got a serial killer of a psychopath like a Hannibal Lecter-type of monster, they usually at least have some feelings about their victims, even if it’s an object they have a compulsion about, or whether it might even be a hatred, as opposed to total desensitization, where these people are almost like something in a video game.”