Patricia Cornwell was born on June 9, 1956, in Miami, Florida, and grew up in Montreat, North Carolina.
Following graduation from Davidson College in 1979, she began working at the Charlotte Observer, rapidly advancing from listing television programs to writing feature articles to covering the police beat. She won an investigative reporting award from the North Carolina Press Association for a series of articles on prostitution and crime in downtown Charlotte.
Her award-winning biography of Mrs. Billy Graham, A Time for Remembering, was published in 1983. From 1984 to 1990 she worked as a technical writer and a computer analyst at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia.
Her first crime novel, Postmortem, was published by Scribner’s in 1990. Initially rejected by seven major publishing houses, it became the first novel to win the Edgar, Creasey, Anthony, and Macavity awards as well as the French Prix du Roman d’Aventure in a single year. In Postmortem, Cornwell introduced Dr. Kay Scarpetta as the intrepid Chief Medical Examiner of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1999, Dr. Scarpetta herself won the Sherlock Award for best detective created by an American author.
Following the success of her first novel, Cornwell has written a string of bestsellers featuring Kay Scarpetta, her detective sidekick Marino, and her volatile niece, Lucy: Body of Evidence (1991), All That Remains (1992), Cruel and Unusual (1993) [which won Britain’s prestigious Gold Dagger Award for the year’s best crime novel], The Body Farm (1994), From Potter’s Field (1995), Cause of Death (1996), Unnatural Exposure (1997), Point of Origin (1998), Black Notice (1999), The Last Precinct (2000), Blow Fly (2003), Trace (2004), Predator (2005), and Book of the Dead (2007) [which won the 2008 Galaxy British Book Awards’ Books Direct Crime Thriller of the Year; she is the first American ever to win this award]. The 16th novel in this series—Scarpetta—will be released in December 2008.
In addition to the Scarpetta novels, she has written three best-selling novels featuring Andy Brazil: Hornet’s Nest (1996), Southern Cross (1998), and Isle of Dogs (2001); two cook books: Scarpetta’s Winter Table (1998) and Food to Die For (2001); and a children’s book: Life’s Little Fable (1999). In 1997, she updated A Time for Remembering, and it was reissued as Ruth, A Portrait: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham. Intrigued by Scotland Yard’s John Grieve’s observation that no one had ever tried to use modern forensic evidence to solve the murders committed by Jack the Ripper, Cornwell began her own investigation of the serial killer’s crimes. In Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper---Case Closed (2002), she narrates her discovery of compelling evidence to indict the famous artist Walter Sickert as the Ripper. A revised edition of this book with new and startling evidence will be published in the near future.
In January 2006, the New York Times Sunday magazine began a 15-week serialization of At Risk, featuring Massachusetts state investigator Win Garano and D.A. Monique Lamont. Its sequel, The Front, was serialized in the London Times in the spring of 2008; both novellas were subsequently published as books and were promptly optioned for adaptation by Lifetime Television Network.
Patricia Cornwell co-wrote and co-produced the movie ATF for ABC, and she is often interviewed on national television as a forensic consultant. She helped found the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine and is the former Director of Applied Forensic Science at the National Forensic Academy. In May 2007 she was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where she is a Senior Fellow at its International Crime Scene Academy. In the citation for her honorary degree, she was praised for “enlightening society through commitment to the principles of academic excellence and understanding for all.” She is also a member of the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital’s National Council, where she is an advocate for psychiatric research.
Her work is translated into thirty-two languages across more than thirty-five countries, and she is regarded as one of the major international best-selling authors.
Her novels are praised for their meticulous research and an insistence on accuracy in every detail, especially in forensic medicine and police procedures. She is so committed to verisimilitude that, among other accomplishments, she became a helicopter pilot and a certified scuba diver and qualified for a motorcycle license because she was writing about characters who were doing these things. “It is important to me to live in the world I write about,” she said. “If I want a character to do or know something, I want to do or know the same thing.”
Cornwell is also well known for her philanthropic efforts in animal rescue, college scholarships, literacy, and criminal justice. Some of her projects include the establishment of an ICU at Cornell’s Animal Hospital, the archaeological excavation of Jamestown, the scientific study of the Confederate States submarine H.L. Hunley, and, most recently, a $1 million gift toward the establishment of a Crime Scene Academy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.