Wednesday, January 16, 2008

THURSDAY THIRTEEN #50 -- Meet author Patricia Cornwell's most famous creation


I’m reading the latest Patricia Cornwell book, Book of the Dead. It’s another compelling, brutal tale that revolves around the life of Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta. While I don’t always enjoy these books – they are grisly and the quality varies wildly – I always like spending time with Scarpetta. I like and even admire her. She’s honest, brilliant, hardworking and kind. She may well be one of my favorite imaginary people.

Here are 13 facts about the old girl, culled from my own recollection of the books and from the fansites on the internet. (I was surprised to discover that a fictional coroner even had fansites, but I’m grateful because they were invaluable to this TT.)

1. Kay was introduced in the book Postmortem in 1990. She has starred in 15 Patricia Cornwell novels to date.

2. She was born in (approx.) 1949 in Miami, Florida. Her father succumbed to leukemia when she was about 13. His slow, sad death had a tremendous impact on her.

3. She has blue eyes and ash blonde hair, and wears a size 10 blouse and an 8 skirt. She likes to wear matching suits in dark colors.

4. She is licensed as both a doctor and a lawyer, with degrees from Cornell, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown. Since her family was not wealthy – and suffered financially after her father’s death – Kay either paid for all this education herself or qualified for grants and scholarships. I admire the tenacity and toughness this would have required.

5. Her car of choice is a Mercedes. She leases but doesn’t buy them.

6. Tony Benedetti was her only husband. They were married for 5 or 6 years and divorced before we even met Kay in Postmortem.

7. Kay is a terrific cook and makes many of her dishes completely from scratch – including the pasta. I love the juxtaposition – how easily and comfortably Kay moves between solving more than 100 murders and carefully rolling out dough in her custom-designed kitchen. Kay’s time in the kitchen has been such a big part of this series that Cornwell published a cookbook: Food to Die for: Secrets from Scarpetta’s Kitchen.

8. Kay loves good liquor – especially wine and scotch – and enjoys matching the perfect beverages with her meals. It’s part of her attention to detail, and illustrates her regard for her friends and guests. Kay is always gracious – no matter how harrowing the circumstances. (I do wish she had more of a sense of humor, though. Kay never seems to have many laughs.)

7. She used to be a heavy smoker. But she kicked the habit, and cut back on her coffee consumption, in 1993. She now seems to prefer decaf and tea.

8. She’s been a loving and dedicated surrogate mother to her niece, Lucy. Kay’s icky sister Dorothy is a much-married, highly successful children’s book author who ironically had no time for motherhood. Kay stepped into the breach and cared for the brilliant, turbulent Lucy. A former FBI agent and computer wizard, Lucy is a software mogul who made her first million before age 25. Lucy is a lesbian who has a hard time maintaining close relationships. (There’s ALWAYS chaos surrounding poor Lucy. I yearn to someday read a Scarpetta book where Lucy’s worst problem is a bad hair day.)

9. Poor Pete Marino has been in love with Kay from the start. A good and dedicated cop, he met Kay when he was a detective and she was the ME. Big, balding and divorced from his wife, Doris, Pete is a man of simple tastes (beer, cigarettes, motorcycles and fishing). Though he and Kay work brilliantly together, and she cares about and for him, there can never be romance between them and it is slowly breaking his heart.

10. Benton Wesley is her great love. He’s a handsome, patrician FBI profiler who has worked many cases with Kay. He is her match, her soulmate, in ways Marino never could be. I don’t especially like Benton and believe Kay could do better. He was married when he and Kay fell in love. That’s not the issue; it happens and I don’t judge. But the way Benton has completely walked away from his family (I know he has 3 children, at least 1 daughter) to be with Kay bothers me. I’m surprised it doesn’t bother Kay more, too, since she is so careful and loving with her niece and close friends. I had expected her to try very hard to establish a relationship with Benton’s children.

11. She is very tender with those she autopsies. I know that sounds weird, but it’s one of the things I like best about her. She doesn’t view what she does to the bodies in her morgue as cutting them up. Instead, she considers it “listening.” She wants to give them every opportunity to explain … to tell her through skin and bones and blood and tissue, what happened and how they ended up with her, and she is passionately concerned with getting them justice.

12. She loves to garden. While I don’t believe she’s ever owned a pet, she is very attached to the squirrels and birds who share her yard. I find it touching that she takes such pleasure in nature and life when she is surrounded by death and the unnatural all day. I really like that about my imaginary friend, Kay.

13. Her loyal secretary, Rose, has followed her everywhere. When Kay left Richmond for Florida, Rose went, too. When Kay left Florida for Charleston, so did Rose. Kay is very lucky to have Rose – a gray-haired, proper woman with impeccable manners who has managed over time to become as much a part of Scarpetta’s “family” as Lucy and Marino.

GAL’S SPECIAL NOTE TO SCARPETTA VIRGINS: If you’re ready to dive into the Scarpetta books, PLEASE read them in order. First of all, because if you don’t, some of the plot twists in later books will simply confound you. Also because, objectively speaking, the earlier books are the best. If you start with the more recent ones (especially Blow Fly – which I hated), you may be so disheartened and disgusted that you won’t want to stay with the series.

If you leave your link in the comments, I'll add you here:
1. Mama Pajama has a melodic TT
2. SusieJ has a thoughtful TT about attention problems
3. Sandee has a riotous reading list
4. Greatfullivin has a thought provoking shopping list
5. Rhonda shares her unique writing process
6. Nicholas has another book TT, as only Nicholas can!
7. Nap Warden has had a very varied career
8. Sandy Carlson bids us "farewell" beautifully
9. Malcolm has a charming TT about his favorite TV show openings
10. Ellen B. takes us on a gorgeous trip out west
11. Mama Geek exhaustively answers 13 questions
12. Susan Helene Gottfried takes us back to Yellowstone
13. Cricket's Hearth has some "disappointing" suggestions for AI
14. Open Grove Claudia encourages us to start a revolution
15. She's a Writer takes a closer look at AI
16. Janet has an inspiring "to do" list for 2008
17. SJR The Pink Flamingo is throwing one helluva dinner party!
18. Deanna's charming TT includes ads from the 1950s
19. Wolfie examines the bald eagle
20. Mo tempts us with a sinful but yummy TT
22. Aline's TT is about her predictions for the week
23. Feefifoto takes us shopping online
24. Candyminx takes us from movies to TV and back
25. Holly shares 13 of her favorite things
26. Emeraldcity Guy has lost some things, but can't find them in his garage
27. Misty Dawn has some stuff on her mind

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others' comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!


  1. Anonymous4:10 PM

    What a helpful TT! I'm always looking for new books to read, and now you've peaked my interest in Kay Scarpetta. I'm going to have to pick up Postmortem so that I can start from the beginning!

  2. Anonymous4:27 PM

    I could use a good book! Thank you. Common Sense Remedies for ADHD

  3. I've not read any of these, but they sound very interesting. I can see why you admire Kay. Have a great TT. :)

  4. My grandmother read quite a few of her books. I picked up a few, though not in order...I think though that Cornwell does a good job at not alienating the casual readers who haven't read the entire cataloge. I've been able to pick up the back plot pretty easily.

  5. I have never read these books but you sure make Kay Scarpetta sound interesting. I think I would like her too. Have a great TT.

  6. What fun!! Now, I want to read about this chick. She sounds and a lawyer too. Hmmm Reading another book would be a great addition to my TT post!

  7. Anonymous5:04 PM

    I read one of Cornwell's books with this character a few years ago, I forget which, but I didn't remember any of these details about her. I do detect a touch of an author's wishful thinking in her main character perhaps!

  8. Lord, I haven't read a book in ages! If I get a moment, I'll check it out. Happy TT!

  9. No. 8 makes her my kinda gal.

  10. I have heard many good things about the Kay Scarpetta series; your TT makes me want to lose my "virginity" and check out some of the books.

    I was curious. Does she know how Pete Marino feels about her?

  11. She sounds like a great character. Enjoy...

  12. Wow, she sounds so interesting. Mercedes? Not a bad choice. :)

  13. Cornwell will be in town next month to give a talk. I'm debating going to see her. I'm not a HUGE fan of hers, just a lukewarm one, so ... I don't know. Maybe if I have someone to go with.

    Cool TT, btw.

  14. Anonymous7:10 PM

    I had not heard of this author. I will have to check her out. Thanks.

  15. Boy I completely gave up on Patricia Cornwall. In fact, my dh said that he would not keep one of the books in the house they are so grisly. I struggle with her love of the psychopath - given that psychopaths are only 2% of the population and most criminal are just dummies in the wrong place. I'm fascinated that you enjoyed the book.... maybe... too chicken....

    Happy TT! My TT is about starting your own revolution!

  16. I love the Scarpetta stories, although, you're right, the writing has gone downhill. Wonder what's up?

  17. Anonymous9:30 PM

    hey gal,
    oooo...I saw "Book of the Dead" and I thought your TT was about vampires. You know about me and the vampire problem....
    And wonder we are TT is on another author!

    your ol' pal

  18. I like to do the Cornwell novels on CD in the car. My favorites are the redneck series.

    The Pink Flamingo

  19. I LOVED the first four or five Kay Scarpetta books, but then she lost me. I haven't even read the last three or four.

    Have you read any of Dennis Lehane? He has a great series, dark and gritty. Let me know if you want the titles.

  20. Anonymous5:09 AM

    I've not ready any of these, but you sure make her seem like a well-developed character!

    Happy T13!

  21. Anonymous5:20 AM

    Wat a way to share ur T-13..sounds like tis book is quite interesting..maybe I'll pick it up..

  22. I've read a few of these, but they really didn't grab me...I do intend to give her another try tho, so that's somethin'.

  23. Anonymous7:02 AM

    I haven't read any, either, but welcome suggestions. Thanks for the compilation!

  24. I've rad one of her books, but no sure which anymore LOL
    Great list.


  25. Anonymous10:08 AM

    We all need some fresh reading material. Charlotte's Web is great, but after the hundredth time...

    Here's mine:

  26. Hey great stuff about the character Kay...I used to read this series faithfully...but stopped around ten books. Now...I feel like trying her again. I loved the supense and character untill Kay started preaching about always made me feel like going and having a cigarette funny huh?

    Also, the autoposies were pretty grisly sometimes...

    but you know what? i'm going to try tone out again thanks for the inspiration I've missed Scarpetta!

    Here is my TT, short and sweet

  27. I LOVE Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series. (must admit I didn't like it when she tried to switch to another character). GREAT books that I can highly recommend. There is something about this character that is so interesting and real. If anyone hasn't read any of them - try one!

    Happy TT-13!



  28. Anonymous12:15 PM

    I've not read Patricia Cornwell, but I know my mom does and enjoys her books. Great list regardless. Happy TT!

  29. I LOVE Patricia Cornwell and have a whole shelf full of her books!

    My TT is at Misty's Words, but I gave you an award at :-)

  30. I have never read any of her books but you make them sound wonderful!! I will have to check her out. Happy TT my friend and thanks for stopping by:)

  31. I so have to read this book now LOL

    I have mine up if you would like to stop by.

    Happy TT everyone!