(US, 1957– )
Patricia Cornwell worked as a crime reporter and morgue computer analyst before introducing Dr Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner, in Post-Mortem (1990). The series of psychological thrillers has been extremely successful, not least because of Scarpetta's well-drawn character; she is ambitious, dedicated, intelligent, but vulnerable as well. A cast of supporting characters includes her young and gifted niece Lucy and grouchy cop Pete Marino. Cornwell gives us all the gruesome details of post-mortems and the painstaking work of the subsequent forensic investigations. The stories are well plotted and compelling, each building to a tremendous climax. It is Christmas time in Cruel and Unusual (1993) but no holiday for Scarpetta; she has to do a post-mortem on an executed convict then a young boy is found mutilated. On top of all this someone is sabotaging her work and her precocious niece Lucy has landed for the Christmas break.