Blonde, blue-eyed and toned, thanks to a strict exercise regime, Patricia Cornwell looks much younger than her 60 years.
As one of the world’s bestselling crime writers, with novels translated into 36 languages in more than 120 countries, staying fit has helped her master the skills she writes about in her novels featuring forensic sleuth Dr Kay Scarpetta.
Cornwell learned how to fly helicopters because Lucy, Scarpetta’s tech-savvy niece, is a qualified helicopter pilot.
It’s the 24th book in the series and revolves around the death of a 26-year-old cyclist. At first, it looks like she was killed after being struck by lightning - but, of course, things are not what they seem and the investigation becomes more complex when Scarpetta receives a flurry of bizarre poems from an anonymous cyber bully.
Readers who love forensic thrillers should be familiar with Cornwell’s work - fast-paced, sometimes gory, always enlightening, and frequently featuring cutting-edge technologies enabling her fictional killers - and crime-busters - to do what they do.
“My stock in trade has always been to show the technical side of how you can work very unusual crimes,” says the writer. “The fun part for me as I go into my third decade of the series is, what can we do with technology?
Cornwell’s spent millions of dollars on meticulous research for both her fiction and fact-based work. She wrote a book on Jack the Ripper - Portrait Of A Killer - pointing the finger at renowned British Victorian painter Walter Sickert, spending millions of dollars buying his writing desk and 32 of his paintings to have them tested for DNA.
The Miami-born author’s own life has seen almost as much drama as her books. Accounts of her miserable childhood, struggles with anorexia and alcohol and her outing as a lesbian, as well as legal battles and public fights with ex-lovers, have been well-documented.
Her father, a lawyer, walked out on Christmas Day, ignoring five-year-old Cornwell’s attempts to cling to his leg. Her mother, who moved to an evangelical community in North Carolina, down the road from famous preacher Billy Graham and his wife, later suffered from depression and spent time in a psychiatric hospital, and Cornwell was fostered by an abusive woman who bullied and terrified her.
While studying English at college, she fell in love with her male professor, Charlie Cornwell. They married, but divorced after 10 years.
Cornwell did have gay encounters subsequently, but kept her lesbianism a secret - until she was outed by several so-called friends who informed the media.
She recently turned 60, but didn’t want to celebrate.
“I forbade anyone to throw me a secret party. I wanted to have a normal day because I wanted to feel that my life is going on as usual.’’
She still worries about looking older though, and has invested in Botox and cosmetic surgery.
“I’ve had plenty, trust me, I’m a very expensive person. By the time I die, I probably won’t decompose, honey, I’ll just lie on top of the earth.”
:: Chaos by Patricia Cornwell is published by HarperCollins, priced £20.