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Patricia Cornwell and forensics, real and fictional

December 9, 2008 |  8:38 am

Patriciacornwellscarpetta_2 Patricia Cornwell, author of the bestselling crime novels featuring forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta, talks to Sarah Weinman in today's L.A. Times. In Cornwell's latest book, "Scarpetta," Weinman finds "a newfound attempt to rediscover what makes her characters tick and interact with each other within a less violent framework."

Although she did work in the office of Virginia's chief medical examiner, Cornwell was never herself a forensic pathologist. But with the success of her novels, she's tried to support the work of real-life scientists. She co-founded the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine, is involved with the National Forensic Academy in Tennessee, has donated to the Harvard Art Museum for a conservation scientist position and to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. But she remains modest about her role:

When it comes to the real decision-makers about criminal justice, I don't think their first thought is what Patricia Cornwell has to say. I wish that were true. They might wonder what Scarpetta might say ...

Cornwell is known, Weinman writes, for keeping her forensic techniques "on the side of realism, a direct counterpoint to the 'CSI'-style fantasy forensics." In April, she told The Times of London, "When I decided to write crime novels, I wanted to go to the morgue. ... An autopsy is not pretty. It's an offense to all of your senses." That video interview is after the jump.

-- Carolyn Kellogg