Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series turns 25

More than 25 years ago, author Patricia Cornwell created the kind of character who would prove to stand the test of time. Kay Scarpetta, a doctor of forensic science inspired by a real life woman named Marcella Fierro, first appeared in the 1990 novel Postmortem as the Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The book would go on to win multiple awards and spawn an entire series of stories based on Kay, who eventually resigns from her job in Richmond but continues her work as a private forensic researcher, moving around the world to help solve cases with the help of different characters, including her regularly featured lesbian niece, Lucy Farinelli.


Now an international best selling author, Patricia has just published her 23rd Kay Scarpetta novel in 25 years, and Depraved Heart finds the doc embroiled in another mystery that involves her now 30-year-old niece. With no plans to stop writing the stories of Kay and the characters we’ve come to know in her world, it’s frustrating that several attempts to bring them to the big screen have yet to come to fruition. In 2009, 20th Century Fox bought the rights to option the series but the version Kerry Williamson was hired to write for star Angelina Jolie never made it past the development stage. (Some Scarpetta fans might breathe easier now, though, as they did not think Angelina would be the best fit for the doc.)


This summer, it was announced out TV writer Liz Friedman (Orange is the New Black) was working on an adaptation, with Marvel’s Jessica Jones EP Melissa Rosenberg on board as a producer. The film will be based on the series as a whole and not follow the storyline from one specific book. 

Even though Kay Scarpetta is straight (and married to a man), Patricia said there’s a lot of her own self embedded in her protagonist.

“She has changed a lot, as you would hope any human being would after so many experiences. She’s become much more thoughtful and reflective. She doesn’t just barge on through to try to solve something. She’s much more philosophical and less judgmental. She was pretty hard-headed in the earlier books and she’s mellowed. … Scarpetta reflects my history a lot, which is inevitable when you spend so much time with a character. I think her point of view is the right one. I’m more mellow. You get some wisdom with time. Looking back to my 40s, when my career hit the high zone of success, I think I’m very different now to how I was then.”

Live Talks Los Angeles - Patricia Cornwell In Conversation With Jamie Lee Curtisvia Getty

Patricia, now 59, has written several other works outside of the Scarpetta series, and many of those have been made into made-for-TV-movies, including The Front, At Risk, and Hornet’s Nest, starring Virginia Madsen. (Patricia has made cameos in all three.) What her stories have in common is a bad ass woman at the center; most often a detective, doctor or hyper-intelligent professional who can outwit those who threaten the safety and well-being of the world at large. It seems Patricia is planning to continue that trend with a series she’s developing with CBS following “Steele, an unorthodox detective who works for San Diego’s major crimes unit.”

A prolific master at creating satisfying mystery thrillers with awesomely gruesomely detail, Patricia is one of the most successful mass market authors around. A millionaire whose hobbies include flying her own helicopters and scuba diving, Patricia now lives in Boston with her partner Staci Ann Gruber, a PhD at Harvard’s Medical School and McLean Hospital. It seems that her one true love, though, will always remain Kay Scarpetta, who she has no plans of saying goodbye to in the near future.

“I can’t imagine her not there, waiting for me to turn on my computer and say hello,” Patricia told The Star News. “Unless, of course, she fires me first.”

So here’s hoping we’ll see more of Lucy, the lesbian FBI Agent with a genius IQ and her partner, Jaime Berger, a New York District Attorney. A spin-off series, perhaps? Either way, the amount of people in the world who have devoured a Scarpetta novel by an out lesbian author and including an out lesbian genius with a strong, smart woman at the center are surely benefitting from Patricia Cornwell’s brand of engrossing queer-tinged feminist fiction.