Patricia Cornwell, with the debut of Kay Scarpetta in Postmortem , presaged the surge in popularity that “forensic mysteries” would achieve with CSI (and its many spinoffs) by ten years! In fact, it is her books, featuring Scarpetta, a forensic pathologist and Virginia’s Medical Examiner, that probably paved the way for Gil Grissom and all the other forensic lab workers so popular now on television. Cornwell (and the Scarpetta novels specifically) appeal to readers for several reasons. Important among those is the strong characterization of Scarpetta as a tough, driven professional in a male dominated field. But the primary draw for Cornwell’s Scarpetta novels is the detailed forensics descriptions. Told in a very business-like manner, the descriptions of autopsies and examinations of gruesome physical evidence are never overly gory, but instead are very scientific and matter-of-fact. The novels in the Scarpetta series also build on each other, with character arcs and changing relationships, making this a series that readers also follow to see what happens to all the “regulars. Finally, Cornwell’s plots are often very complex, featuring unpredictable twists and turns. Her novels are intellectual puzzlers, and don’t feature much action or extensive violence, with most of the killings having taken place “off screen” and Scarpetta working to evaluate the evidence after the fact.
Cornwell’s success has certainly popularized the forensic mysteries field, and the following list identifies some authors writing in a similar style to Cornwell. The author names are hotlinked to their holdings in our catalog, so that you may check on the availability of their titles in print or audio formats.
Jeffrey Deaver [the Lincoln Rhyme series] Linda Fairstein
Elizabeth George [the Inspector Lynley series
Sharyn McCrumb [the Elizabeth MacPherson series] Kathy Reichs
Robert W. Walker
For additional mysteries or thrillers featuring Forensics as a primary theme or plot element, please check out our much more extensive Forensic Fiction booklist!