Remains were all that was left of the stowaway. He arrived in Richmond’s Deep Water Terminal—the ghastly cargo of a ship from Belgium. The decomposed body gives Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta no clues to its identity—or the cause of death. But an odd tattoo soon leads her on an international search to Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon, France—and towards a confrontation with one of the most savage killers of her career...
About the Author
Hometown:Boston, MA and New York, NY
Date of Birth:June 9, 1956
Place of Birth:Miami, Florida
Education:B.A. in English, Davidson College, 1979; King College
Read an Excerpt
This excerpt is from BLACK NOTICE by Patricia Cornwell:
The narrow road led me through a vacant land of weeds and woods that ended abruptly at a security checkpoint. I felt as if I were crossing the border into an unfriendly country. Beyond was a train yard and hundreds of -boxcar--size orange containers stacked three and four high. A guard who took his job very seriously stepped outside his booth. I rolled down my window.
"May I help you, ma'am?" he asked in a flat military tone.
"I'm Dr. Kay Scarpetta," I replied.
"And who are you here to see?"
"I'm here because there's been a death," I explained. "I'm the medical examiner."
I showed him my credentials. He took them from me and studied them carefully. I had a feeling he -didn't know what a medical examiner was and -wasn't about to ask.
"So -you're the chief," he said, handing the worn black wallet back to me. "The chief of what?"
"I'm the chief medical examiner of Virginia," I replied. "The police are waiting for me."
He stepped back inside his booth and got on the phone as my impatience grew. It seemed every time I needed to enter a secured area, I went through this. I used to assume my being a woman was the reason, and in earlier days this was probably true-at least some of the time. Now I believed the threats of terrorism, crime and lawsuits were the explanation. The guard wrote down a description of my car and the plate number. He handed me a clipboard so I could sign in and gave me a visitor's pass, which I -didn't clip on.
"See that pine tree down there?" he said, pointing.
"I see quite a few pine trees."
"The little bent one. Take a left at it and just head on towards the water, ma'am," he said. "Have a nice day."
I moved on, passing huge tires parked here and there and several red brick buildings with signs out front to identify the U.S. Customs Service and Federal Marine Terminal. The port itself was rows of huge warehouses with orange containers lined up at loading docks like animals feeding from troughs. Moored off the wharf in the James River were two container ships, the Euroclip and the Sirius, each almost twice as long as a football field. Cranes hundreds of feet high were poised above open hatches the size of swimming pools.
Yellow crime-scene tape anchored by traffic cones circled a container that was mounted on a chassis. No one was nearby. In fact, I saw no sign of police except for an unmarked blue Caprice at the edge of the dock apron, the driver, apparently, behind the wheel talking through the window to a man in a white shirt and a tie. Work had stopped. Stevedores in hard hats and reflective vests looked bored as they drank sodas or bottled water or smoked.
I dialed my office and got Fielding on the phone.
"When were we notified about this body?" I asked him.
"Hold on. Let me check the sheet." Paper rustled. "At exactly ten -fifty--three."
"And when was it found?"
"Uh, Anderson -didn't seem to know that."
"How the hell could she not know something like that?"
"Like I said, I think she's new."
"Fielding, there's not a cop in sight except for her, or at least I guess that's her. What exactly did she say to you when she called in the case?"
"DOA, decomposed, asked for you to come to the scene."
"She specifically requested me?" I asked.
"Well, hell. -You're always everybody's first choice. That's nothing new. But she said Marino told her to get you to the scene."
"Marino?" I asked, surprised. "He told her to tell me to respond?"
"Yeah, I thought it was a little ballsy of him."
I remembered Marino's telling me he would drop by the scene, and I got angrier. He gets some rookie to basically give me an order, and then if Marino can fit it in, he might swing by and see how -we're doing?
"Fielding, when's the last time you talked to him?" I asked.
"Weeks. Pissy mood, too."
"Not half as pissy as mine's going to be if and when he finally decides to show up," I promised.
Dockworkers watched me climb out of my car and pop open the trunk. I retrieved my scene case, jumpsuit and shoes, and felt eyes crawl all over me as I walked toward the unmarked car and got more annoyed with each labored step, the heavy case bumping against my leg.
The man in the shirt and tie looked hot and unhappy as he shielded his eyes to gaze up at two television news helicopters slowly circling the port at about four hundred feet.
"Darn reporters," he muttered, turning his eyes to me.
"I'm looking for whoever's in charge of this crime scene," I said.
"That would be me," came a female voice from inside the Caprice.
I bent over and peered through the window at the young woman sitting behind the wheel. She was darkly tanned, her brown hair cut short and slicked back, her nose and jaw strong. Her eyes were hard, and she was dressed in -relaxed--leg faded jeans, -lace--up black leather boots and white -T--shirt. She wore her gun on her hip, her badge on a ball chain tucked into her collar. Air-conditioning was blasting, light rock on the radio surfing over the cop talk on the scanner.
"Detective Anderson, I presume," I said.
"Rene Anderson. The one and only. And you must be the doc -I've heard so much about," she said with the arrogance I associated with most people who -didn't know what the hell they were doing.
"I'm Joe Shaw, the port director," the man introduced himself to me. "You must be who the security guys just called me about."
He was about my age, with blond hair, bright blue eyes and skin lined from years of too much sun. I could tell by the look on his face that he detested Anderson and everything about this day.
"Might you have anything helpful to pass along to me before I get started?" I said to Anderson over loud blowing air and rotating helicopter blades. "For example, why there are no police securing the scene?"
-"Don't need 'em," Anderson said, pushing open her door with her knee. "It's not like just anybody can drive right on back here, as you found out when you tried."
I set the aluminum case on the ground. Anderson came around to my side of the car. I was surprised by how small she was.
"Not much I can tell you," she said to me. "What you see is what we got. A container with a real stinker inside."
"No, there's a lot more you can tell me, Detective Anderson," I said. "How was the body discovered and at what time? Have you seen it? Has anybody gotten near it? Has the scene been contaminated in any way? And the answer to the last one had better be no, or I'm holding you responsible."
She laughed. I began pulling the jumpsuit over my clothes.
"Nobody's even gotten close," she told me. "No volunteers for that one."
"You -don't have to go inside the thing to know what's there," Shaw added.
I changed into the black Reeboks and put on the baseball cap. Anderson was staring at my Mercedes.
"Maybe I should go work for the state," she said.
I looked her up and down.
"I suggest you cover up if -you're going in there," I said to her.
"I gotta make a couple calls," she said, walking off.
"I -don't mean to tell people how to do their jobs," Shaw said to me. "But what the hell's going on here? We got a dead body right over there and the cops send in a little shit like that?"
His jaw muscles were clenching, his face bright red and dripping sweat.
"You know, you -don't make a dime in this business unless things are moving," he went on. "And not a darn thing's moved for more than two and a half hours."
He was working so hard not to swear around me.
"Not that I'm not sorry about someone being dead," he went on. "But I sure would like you folks to do your business and leave." He scowled up at the sky again. "And that includes the media."
"Mr. Shaw, what was being shipped inside the container?" I asked him.
"German camera equipment. You should know the seal on the container's latch -wasn't broken. So it appears the cargo -wasn't tampered with."
"Did the foreign shipper affix the seal?"
"Meaning the body, alive or dead, most likely was inside the container before it was sealed?" I said.
"That's what it looks like. The number matches the one on the entry filed by the customs broker, nothing the least out of the ordinary. In fact, this cargo's already been released by Customs. Was five days ago," Shaw told me. "Which is why it was loaded straight on a chassis. Then we got a whiff and no way that container was going anywhere."
I looked around, taking in the entire scene at once. A light breeze clinked heavy chains against cranes that had been offloading steel beams from the Euroclip, three hatches at a time, when all activity stopped. Forklifts and flatbed trucks had been abandoned. Dockworkers and crew had nothing to do and kept their eyes on us from the tarmac.
Some looked on from the bows of their ships and through the windows of deckhouses. Heat rose from -oil--stained asphalt scattered with wooden frames, spacers and skids, and a CSX train clanked and scraped through a crossing beyond the warehouses. The smell of creosote was strong but could not mask the stench of rotting human flesh that drifted like smoke on the air.
"Where did the ship set sail from?" I asked Shaw as I noticed a marked car parking next to my Mercedes.
"Antwerp, Belgium, two weeks ago," he replied as he looked at the Sirius and the Euroclip. "Foreign flag vessels like all the rest we get. The only American flags we see anymore are if someone raises one as a courtesy," he added with a trace of disappointment.
A man on the Euroclip was standing by the starboard side, looking back at us with binoculars. I thought it strange he was dressed in long sleeves and long pants, as warm as it was.
Shaw squinted. "Darn, this sun is bright."
"What about stowaways?" I asked. "Although I -can't imagine anyone choosing to hide inside a locked container for two weeks on high seas."
"Never had one that I know of. Besides, -we're not the first port of call. Chester, Pennsylvania, is. Most of our ships go from Antwerp to Chester to here, and then straight back to Antwerp. A stowaway's most likely going to bail out in Chester instead of waiting till he gets to Richmond.
-"We're a niche port, Dr. Scarpetta," Shaw went on.
I watched in disbelief as Pete Marino climbed out of the cruiser that had just parked next to my car.
"Last year, maybe a hundred and twenty oceangoing ships and barges called in the port," Shaw was saying.
Marino had been a detective as long as -I'd known him. I had never seen him in uniform.
"If it were me and I was trying to jump ship or was an illegal alien, I think -I'd want to end up in some really big port like Miami or L.A. where I could get lost in the shuffle."
Anderson walked up to us, chewing gum.
"Point is, we -don't break the seal and open them up unless we suspect something illegal, drugs, undeclared cargo," Shaw continued. "Every now and then we preselect a ship for a full shakedown search to keep people honest."
"Glad I -don't have to dress like that anymore," Anderson remarked as Marino headed toward us, his demeanor cocky and pugilistic, the way he always acted when he was insecure and in an especially foul mood.
"Why's he in uniform?" I asked her.
"He got reassigned."
"There's been a lot of changes in the department since Deputy Chief Bray got here," Anderson said as if she were proud of the fact.
I -couldn't imagine why anyone would throw someone so valuable back into uniform. I wondered how long ago this had happened. I was hurt Marino -hadn't let me know, and I was ashamed I -hadn't found out anyway. It had been weeks, maybe a month, since I had called just to check on him. I -couldn't remember the last time -I'd invited him to drop by my office for coffee or to come to my house for dinner.
"What's going on?" he gruffly said as a greeting.
He -didn't give Anderson a glance.
"I'm Joe Shaw. How you doing?"
"Like shit," Marino sourly replied. "Anderson, you decide to work this one all by yourself? Or is it just the other cops -don't want nothing to do with you?"
She glared at him. She took the gum out of her mouth and tossed it as if he had ruined the flavor.
"You forget to invite anyone to this little party of yours?" he went on. "Jesus!" He was furious.
Marino was strangled by a -short--sleeved white shirt buttoned up to the collar and a -clip--on tie. His big belly was in a shoving match with dark blue uniform pants and a stiff leather duty belt fully loaded with his -Sig--Sauer -nine--millimeter pistol, handcuffs, extra clips, pepper spray and all the rest. His face was flushed. He was dripping sweat, a pair of Oakley sunglasses blacking out his eyes.
"You and I have to talk," I said to him.
I tried to pull him off to the side, but he -wouldn't budge. He tapped a Marlboro out of the pack he always had on him somewhere.
"You like my new outfit?" he sardonically said to me. "Deputy Chief Bray thought I needed new clothes."
"Marino, -you're not needed here," Anderson said to him. "In fact, I -don't think you want anyone to know you even thought about coming here."
"It's captain to you." He blew out his words on gusts of cigarette smoke. "You might want to watch your -smart--ass mouth because I outrank you, babe."
Shaw watched the rude exchange without a word.
"I -don't believe we call female officers babe anymore," Anderson said.
-"I've got a body to look at," I said.
-"We've got to go through the warehouse to get there," Shaw told me.
"Let's go," I said.
He walked Marino and me to a warehouse door that faced the river. Inside was a huge, dimly lit, airless space that was sweet with the smell of tobacco. Thousands of bales of it were wrapped in burlap and stacked on wooden pallets, and there were tons of magfilled sand and orifet that I believed were used in processing steel, and machine parts bound for Trinidad, according to what was stamped on crates.
Several bays down, the container had been backed up to a loading dock. The closer we got to it, the stronger the odor. We stopped at the crime-scene tape draped across the container's open door. The stench was thick and hot, as if every molecule of oxygen had been replaced by it, and I willed my senses to have no opinion. Flies had begun to gather, their ominous noise reminding me of the -high--pitched buzzing of a -remote--control toy plane.
"Were there flies when the container was first opened?" I asked Shaw.
"Not like this," he said.
"How close did you get?" I asked as Marino and Anderson caught up with us.
"Close enough," Shaw said.
"No one went inside it?" I wanted to make sure.
"I can guarantee you that, ma'am." The stench was getting to him.
Marino seemed unfazed. He shook out another cigarette and mumbled around it as he fired the lighter.
"So, Anderson," he said. "I -don't guess it could be livestock, you know, since you -didn't look. Hell, maybe a big dog that accidentally got locked up in there. Sure would be a shame to drag the doc here and get the media all in a lather and then find out it's just some poor ol' wharf dog rotted in there."
He and I both knew there was no dog or pig or horse or any other animal in there. I opened my scene case while Marino and Anderson went on carping at each other. I dropped my car key inside and pulled on several layers of gloves and a surgical mask. I fitted my -thirty--five-millimeter Nikon with a flash and a -twenty--eight-millimeter lens. I loaded -four--hundred--speed film so the photographs -wouldn't be too grainy, and slipped sterile booties over my shoes.
"It's just like when we get bad smells coming from a -closed--up house in the middle of July. We look through the window. Break in if we have to. Make sure what's in there's human before we call the M.E.," Marino continued to instruct his new protégé.
I ducked under the tape and stepped inside the dark container, relieved to find it was only half full of neatly stacked white cartons, leaving plenty of room to move around. I followed the beam of my flashlight deeper, sweeping it from side to side.
Near the back, it illuminated a bottom row of cartons soaked with the reddish purge fluid that leaks from the nose and mouth of a decomposing body. My light followed shoes and lower legs, and a bloated, bearded face jumped out of the dark. Bulging milky eyes stared, the tongue so swollen it protruded from the mouth as if the dead man were mocking me. My covered shoes made sticky sounds wherever I stepped.
The body was fully clothed and propped up in the corner, the container's metal walls bracing it from two sides. Legs were straight out, hands in the lap beneath a carton that apparently had fallen. I moved it out of the way and checked for defense injuries, or for abrasions and broken nails that might suggest he had tried to claw his way out. I saw no blood on his clothes, no sign of obvious injuries or that a struggle had taken place. I looked for food or water, for any provisions or holes made through the container's sides for ventilation, and found nothing.
I made my way between every row of boxes, squatting to shine oblique light on the metal floor, looking for shoe prints. Of course, they were everywhere. I moved an inch at a time, my knees about to give out. I found an empty plastic wastepaper basket. Then I found two silvery coins. I bent close to them. One was a deutsche mark. I -didn't recognize the other one and touched nothing.
Marino seemed a mile away, standing in the container's opening.
"My car key's in my case," I called out to him through the surgical mask.
"Yeah?" he said, peering inside.
"Could you go get the -Luma--Lite? I need the -fiber--optic attachment and the extension cord. Maybe Mr. Shaw can help you find somewhere to plug it in. Has to be a grounded receptacle, -one--fifteen VAC."
"I love it when you talk dirty," he said.
Reprinted from Black Notice by Patricia Cornwell by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Cornwell Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Table of ContentsCornwell delivers a high-stakes Kay Scarpetta novel with an intrigue that will take Kay an ocean's length from home. The nightmare begins when a cargo ship arriving from Belgium at Richmond's Deep Water Terminal is discovered to be transporting a locked, sealed container holding the decomposed remains of a stowaway. Her investigation of the body leads her to Interpol's headquarters. There she receives instructions to go to Paris to get secret evidence and then to return to Virginia to carry out a secret mission that could ruin her career.
On Thursday, August 5th, bn.com welcomed Patricia Cornwell to discuss BLACK NOTICE.
Moderator: Good evening, Patricia Cornwell. Welcome back to bn.com. We're looking forward to chatting about your new novel, BLACK NOTICE. How's your summer going?
Patricia Cornwell: Thank you, it's very nice to be here. I'm looking forward to spending time with all the people who are gathered here. My summer has been very good, but very intense, because up until a week until I left for my book tour, I've been in helicopter school, so I was doing that for almost two months, and in fact I just got my pilot's license a couple of weeks ago, so I'm really tired!
Annie from Düsseldorf, Germany: BLACK NOTICE is the perfect answer to your fans' reactions to POINT OF ORIGIN. Do you consider the reaction of readers to previous books for the character development of your protagonists, or is the development part of a master plan?
Patricia Cornwell: No, I do consider my readers when I begin any book, because I know they have expectations when they go out to get the new one, and I try to answer question that have been left unresolved, which usually are going to be answered anyway, just by the normal evolution of the story and the characters.
Ellen Harper from Roswell, NM: Can you tell me in what order your Scarpetta novels were written? I have read three and want to read the rest in sequence so that I can "get to know" the characters as you have developed them over each book.
Patricia Cornwell: If you check in the beginning of each book, it lists them in order. But you don't have to read them in order.
Emily B. from Scotch Plains, NJ: Hi, Patricia: I'm reading along in BLACK NOTICE (and loving it), when lo and behold, Marino says it again: "Dumb as a bag of hammers." Where does this expression come from?
Patricia Cornwell: I've actually heard detectives use that expression before. Police have the most ridiculously funny sayings, and where they get them, I just don't know. But it sort of works, doesn't it?
Lauralyn from New York: I love the way you have developed the characters in your novels. I'm curious though, why did you choose to "eliminate" Benton?
Patricia Cornwell: I didn't choose to. I never know what's going to happen in a book when I start it, and I simply remain faithful to the book and the story, and that's the way that story wanted to go.
Janet from Richmond, VA: Patricia, BLACK NOTICE is you at your best. You never cease to impress me with your writing skills. Can you give us a teaser about what your next Scarpetta book will be about?
Patricia Cornwell: First of all, thank you very much! The hint I can give you about my next Scarpetta book is that Scarpetta is going to become involved with a juvenile offender, who may or may not be committing other serious crimes that are occurring in the book, and Lucy is going to transfer from the ATF Miami field office to the Richmond field office, so she and her aunt will be sharing the same jurisdiction.
M. Mitchell from United Kingdom: Have you sold any options for the film rights to your Scarpetta novels?
Patricia Cornwell: No. After all these years, I still have not sold the rights -- although I have continued to work very closely with Hollywood, but I'm not going to sell the rights until we've put together just the right package, and we're working on it.
Karen from Dallas, TX: I really like the new relationships in BLACK NOTICE: Kay with Jay, and Lucy with Jo. I hope, however, that Marino stays single! :) although I would love to see him resolve some issues with his son. Will that be happening soon?
Patricia Cornwell: It's interesting you should bring that up, because I've been contemplating at some point showing you more of Marino's very strange relationship with Rocky. That could happen in the book I'm about to start, or it could be in a book down the road, I'm not sure yet.
Diane Mansfield from Hampton, VA: Who was your inspiration for the character Benton Wesley?
Patricia Cornwell: None of my characters are based on real people. However, I suppose that there are threads of all the characters that come from wonderful role models that I have come to know, in law enforcement, in science, and medicine.
Gina from Washington, DC: I've lived in a few of the places you've written about in your books. How much time do you spend in some of these little out-of-the-way places to get the feeling of having lived there for a while?
Patricia Cornwell: It just depends on how much time I need to spend there. For example, in BLACK NOTICE, I went over to France about five times for research, but I'd also been over there many times before. I'll go as often as I need to to feel comfortable with the material.
Kelley from New Jersey: Hi Patricia, I was wondering where you received so much knowledge about Kay Scarpetta's line of work. Have you ever worked in a morgue or done autopsies?
Patricia Cornwell: I worked in a morgue for six years, and although I have never done an autopsy because I'm not a doctor, I have been present for as many as 1,000 autopsies, and when I was working at the medical examiner's office, would scribe for the doctors during their cases, and do anything they needed me to do to help.
Alison from Toronto: Who is Nina Salter?
Patricia Cornwell: Nina Salter is my French editor, and she was of great assistance in BLACK NOTICE because of the French scenes. She helped me with all things that are French, and I even persuaded her at one point to go to the Seine and collect a water sample for me, and send it to the United States so I could have scientific testing on it. Otherwise I would have had to fly to Paris again just collect a sample of water.
Annie from Düsseldorf, Germany: I loved the "different" Kay in BLACK NOTICE, yet I missed her technical competence and strength. Can Kay Scarpetta ever be the same she used to be before the end of POINT OF ORIGIN?
Patricia Cornwell: I would have disagree about her technical competence and strength, because I feel she showed just as much if not more in BLACK NOTICE as she did in any of the books. The difference probably is that we see her much more vulnerable and emotional in this new book, so maybe she doesn't seem as coolly scientific.
Lonnie Rollo from Collinwood, TN: My daughter is in her 30s and is a lesbian. I find it hard to believe that it is still so difficult for the niece, Lucy, to be accepted for who she is. Is it still this way in the law enforcement field?
Patricia Cornwell: There is a lot of closeted discrimination in law enforcement. Although a police department or a federal agency may not be forthright in saying that they do not want homosexual officers or agents, there still is a prejudice. Thank goodness things aren't as bad as they used to be, and I think it's even worse for the men (male homosexuals).
Cathie Lyons, a Barnes & Noble bookseller: Perhaps I am one of your newest fans. How did you come to create your character, Kay Scarpetta? She is great!
Patricia Cornwell: Thank you! From doing tremendous research in forensic science and medicine, which goes back to 1984, the year I first stepped foot in a morgue. I was also fortunate enough that the first forensic pathologist I ever met is a woman.
Mary from New York: Do you have an actress in mind to play Scarpetta in the future?
Patricia Cornwell: No, I don't have any single actor in mind. I just know it needs to be somebody who is very intelligent and very good.
Annette from New Hampshire: Ms. Cornwell, congratulations on getting your pilot's license! Which do you think is safer: flying or driving?
Patricia Cornwell: [laughs] Depends on who's doing which! I would much rather be up in my helicopter than be driving my car in terms of safety.
Pamela from Australia: Hi...how long does it take you to write your novels? Do you write from an outline? What's your writing routine like?
Patricia Cornwell: I do not write from an outline or any kind of note cards. I only use research notes when I'm writing. So, in that regard, I write my books in very much the way my characters work their cases, because they don't know what's going to happen, either until they follow the evidence. My favorite time of day to write is early morning, and I almost never write at night anymore. That's time for friends and family.
Karen from Dallas, TX: Thanks for being so nice to everyone at the Dallas signing. I was wondering if you ever thought about giving Marino a disease (like diabetes, he seems to be on track for that) and letting Kay and Lucy help him with diet and exercise?
Patricia Cornwell: I think Marino will give himself his diseases -- he doesn't need my help! But it's interesting you should ask that question, because since Lucy is going to be moving to Richmond, I'm quite certain she is going to start dragging him to the gym!
Ann from New Jersey: What does BLACK NOTICE mean?
Patricia Cornwell: Black notice is an Interpol term, a computer classification that refers to an unidentified body with suspected international connections. And if you go to Interpol, you'll find they have an entire corridor that's hung with photographs of dead faces of black notices -- people they hope to identify because they suspect they're fugitives. It's interesting, because I could tell that many of them had died violent deaths, so I thought many of them had died the way they lived.
Karen from Dallas, TX: You mentioned that Lucy will be teaching Kay how to fly a helicopter in the next book. Does that mean Kay will be consulting with the ATF, assisting Lucy in cases?
Patricia Cornwell: Well, Scarpetta already does consult with ATF, and will continue to do so, but what will be interesting now is that she and her niece will actively be working cases together if they're within both their jurisdictions. And it's inevitable that Lucy's going to want to give Scarpetta flying lessons when they're flying together. Scarpetta would love flying a helicopter; she just hasn't figured that out yet. I know in my case, it's gotten to be the only time I can completely get away from everything. I love to just go up flying by myself and having absolute silence except for the blades and the tower.
Karen from Dallas, TX: Did you take Ruth Graham up in your helicopter, or just pose for the pic? I loved your book about her, BTW.
Patricia Cornwell: Well, thank you! And actually Ruth just had her 79th birthday on June 10th, and she hadn't been feeling very well, so I called her up and told her I was bringing my helicopter up to North Carolina and take her on her ride for her birthday. So, we flew her around for about an hour over the Biltmore House and her own house through the mountains, and when we landed, when she found out that I'd been the one flying, she said that had she known that, she never would have gone up. She's still very feisty at her age! (Of course, I didn't have my license then, so I had my instructor, a former state police pilot, sitting next to me. So she was perfectly safe.)
Gillian from West Yorkshire, England: Hi Patricia! Is there anything in your previous novels that you look back on and would like to change?
Patricia Cornwell: That's a really interesting question. I can't think of anything I would like to change. That doesn't meant there isn't something I should change, or should never have done at all, but my method is to always keep moving forward. And in fact, I've never reread a single one of my books. Once they're edited and proofread and finished, I move on to my next story, and never reread the old ones again.
TJ from Tucson, AZ: First of all, let me say that I am a huge fan...and love all your books...but with all your accomplishments and travels and research, when do you find time for romance for yourself?
Patricia Cornwell: Believe me, if you want something badly enough, you can find time for it!
Sarah from England: When you are writing a book, do you write what you want to write, or what you think other will want to read?
Patricia Cornwell: I really don't do either. I start with what I think I want to write, but then the story always takes on a life of its own, and it's as if it tells itself to me, and I simply report on it. The process is almost otherworldly, and I don't completely understand it. I don't always know where the voices are coming from, and usually I don't even know how it's going to end until it happens right before my eyes. This is wonderful and a gift and a privilege, but it's also awful because every time I start a book, I have to trust in something beyond me, and I always fear, maybe I can't do it this time.
Dawn Smith from Geneva, NY: Hi! I love all of your books and find your characters fascinating. I was wondering if you ever find yourself emotionally attached to the characters you create?
Patricia Cornwell: Oh, I'm very emotionally attached to my characters. In fact, my writing is not a job; it's a relationship. And if I don't do right by my characters, such as spending a lot of time in their worlds so that I can understand them as I should, then they won't talk to me. It's not so different from being with people. If the day ever came that I did not pay a lot of attention to them by doing what they do and going out to do the hard work, the research, then I guess they would find someone else to write their stories.
Terry from Ontario, Canada: Patricia, I have a comment instead of a question. I beg you to please keep these absolutely wonderful Kay Scarpetta books coming!!! I wait with great anticipation of each new book. Thanks for your hours of hard work and dedication to your fans.
Patricia Cornwell: Well, thank you very much for such kind words. And I can promise you that it is my every intention to keep these books coming on a regular basis, and the only thing that could stop me is if something happens to me that would prevent me from doing that. And I'm only 43, so hopefully nothing like that will happen to me any time soon!
Janet from Richmond, VA: I know this chat is about BLACK NOTICE, but I just wanted to let you know how much I loved SOUTHERN CROSS. Do you plan a third book in that series? If you do, will it be based in Richmond? The controversy about the flood wall banners would fit right in.
Patricia Cornwell: I think Richmond would be an endless source of SOUTHERN CROSS novels, and I'm so glad that you like SOUTHERN CROSS, because I have a special affection for that book, and it means so much to me to have an opportunity to show you my "Far Side" sense of humor! People who know me well know that I'm funny a lot more than I'm serious. And yes, there will be other Andy Brazil/Chief Hammer books to follow. I don't know when they'll be set. But you're right -- the flood wall certainly fits in.
Janet from Kansas City, KS: I really enjoyed the character in SOUTHERN CROSS who was so challenged by the English language.(I've forgotten her name.) It seems like it would have been both fun and a little challenging to create this character. Can you talk a little about the genesis of this character? Thanks.
Patricia Cornwell: Once again, the genesis is my research, and I spent months sitting in on juvenile crime commission meetings. And I can remember hearing people on the commission making various points and there was this one person in particular who would go on and on and on and when he was done, I'd say to myself, "What on earth did he just say?" And that's where I got my inspiration for Lelia, and I had a blast writing about her.
Marilyn from Trinity, NC: Assuming that parts of your personality are in your characters, which of your traits are in Kay or Lucy or even Marino?
Patricia Cornwell: Scarpetta and I would share the same values and opinions, and the essence of her character and her integrity are my own. Like her and like Lucy, I'm a fighter and a crusader for justice. In terms of something else I would have in common with Lucy, I'm a risk taker to a certain degree, and I love challenges. it's very important for me to meet certain challenges, such as learning to fly a helicopter. She and I are both very fitness-minded. I have a regular routine of working out. But like Marino, I can also be a slob, and also sometimes have a very politically incorrect mouth. But most important, what all of us have in common is that each of us have a good heart. We may have our flaws but we care about other people.
Elke from bn.com: What are three of the best books you've read recently?
Patricia Cornwell: THE PERFECT STORM, HONOR'S VOICE, and CAPOTE, which is a biography of Truman Capote.
Hope from Richmond, VA: Ms. Cornwell, I think it is great that you are helping fund the new Forensic Science Center here. Do you still get a chance to observe at the medical examiner's office to get ideas for new books?
Patricia Cornwell: Oh, absolutely! I have to! I do just as much research now, if not more, than I've ever done, and since I'm on the Board of Directors of the new institute, I will be down there more than ever.
Janet from Richmond, VA: Congratulations on obtaining your pilot's license. In light of the recent tragic accident involving JFK, Jr., does this make you hesitant about flying your helicopter?
Patricia Cornwell: No. It doesn't. I've always been very safety-minded, because death is not an abstraction to me. I've received the best training in the world at the Bell Helicopter Academy in Texas, and I will continue receiving training and executing every precaution to be safe, both to myself and to others. I've actually flown the flight that JFK Jr. did, and I can certainly attest to the fact that after dark in that part of the world, your visibility can vanish in almost a blink of the eye. I flew up there after dark, myself, in recent months, and promised I would never do it again. So, I think what happened to him and his passengers could have happened to anyone, and it's very sad.
Janet from Richmond, VA: I love your new web site. Thanks from one of your many fans. Do you ever utilize volunteers in your organization? If so, I gladly throw my name in the hat.
Patricia Cornwell: We always have an open door for new talent. And, for those who are not familiar with my new web site which we actually just launched a few days ago, I invite you to come visit me there. We look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions, and it's the first time I've been in a position where I can have real interaction with my readers. I'm going to attempt on a monthly basis to answer Frequently Asked Questions, and although you may not always hear from me directly, I have very industrious people who get your comments and concerns to me, and you do have my ear. The address is patricia-cornwell.com.
Catherine from Asheville, NC: Why is it that you try activities before you write about them (id est, helicopters, scuba, et cetera...)?
Patricia Cornwell: Because I can't imagine writing about something I know nothing of. And if I have Scarpetta doing something in a scene, whether it's scuba diving or even seeing a dead body in the morgue, it would not be possible for me to describe her feelings and anticipate her actions, unless I came from a common context. So instead of writing about my life, I live what I write.
Moderator: Thank you, Patricia! Before you go, do you have any closing comments for our online audience this evening?
Patricia Cornwell: I want to thank everybody for their interest, and to make sure they know that it really matters to me that they care and that they read my books, and I appreciate them spending their hard-earned money. I never take it lightly.