A Short Story About Scarpetta

I’m heading to the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate tomorrow morning (for the first time ever and feeling a bit like the new girl who switches schools half way through term and has to walk into a class where she doesn’t know anyone!) so this evening, while I procrastinate instead of pack, I thought I’d share with you a story about my introduction to crime (writing): Kay Scarpetta and the woman who invented her, Patricia Cornwell.


One Christmas, back when I was (I think) either 12 or 13 (ish), a friend of mine lent me her older brother’s Patricia Cornwell paperbacks. Now, I’m not sure if she leant me one and then I bought the others, or if she lent me the whole lot and I just never gave any of them back – in fact, the more I think about this entire incident, the fewer tangible details I can recall – but I do know that several nights in a row, over the school holidays,  I stayed up reading until three or four in the morning because I couldn’t sleep until I got to THE END.

Now I’m sure I’d read other crime novels before that but there was something about Cornwell and her central character, Kay Scarpetta, that moved me from mild interest to totally obsessed. The feisty women, the high-octane plots, the autopsies (ewwww), the pristine house (I STILL want my own mud room and totally OTT home security system) and the detours into highly descriptive Italian cooking sessions (???) – I loved it all. (I never quite understood why a medical examiner would be out in the field investigating crimes, but anyway…) They would be my gateway drug into Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Gillian Flynn (I was reading her long before Gone Girl was a blinking cursor on her computer screen HASHTAG SMUG), and all the other amazing crime/thriller fiction writers whose books I devour today.

Last August I finished my own thriller and when it came time to write the all important cover letter, I mentioned that Cornwell was my introduction to the genre:

Crime/thriller novels have been my reading passion ever since a friend’s older brother irresponsibly let me borrow his collection of Patricia Cornwell paperbacks when I was 12 and, if my apartment spontaneously burst into flames right now, my ‘grab’ item would be my limited-to-200-edition, numbered, gold-edged, slip-cased, red leather-bound copy of Nine Dragons that Michael Connelly personally inscribed to me as a competition prize. (Safe in the knowledge that my MS has been saved to Dropbox, mind you.)

Flash-forward now to the beginning of April this year. My superagent, Jane Gregory, has got me a 2-book deal with Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books, and although I’m not allowed tell everyone yet, I have told a few someones: my writing friends. A gang of us go out to dinner to celebrate in Jamie’s Italian in Dundrum. There’s five of us setting at the table – all either published or about to be – and three of us write crime while a fourth says she doesn’t but there’s a dead body in her book. (Although I’ve stopped saying she’s written crime because it’s starting to really annoy her, I think.)

(But it IS.)


So the waiter arrives at our table to take our drink order, and we decide to order a bottle of wine. (Good decision.) Everyone elects me to choose which one. (Bad decision. I only started drinking wine in the last year – I actually started drinking it at the Irish Book Awards when I turned to Hazel Gaynor and uttered the immortal line, “How winey is that wine?” – and all I know about it is whether it’s white or red.) The waiter eventually steps in and says he’ll pick a wine for us, tells us nothing about his decision and then disappears to go get it.

This is what he brought back:


Naturally, the table erupted. I couldn’t believe it, and I still can’t believe it now. (And no, the waiter knew nothing about who we were, what we did, why we were there or what we were celebrating.) Isn’t that amazing? I mean, what are the chances?

(And it was quite nice, by the way. If anyone knows where outside of Jamie’s Italian you can buy it, do let me know.)

I’m hoping it’s a good omen for the adventures ahead…

I finally caved and joined Instagram. Follow me there and on Twitter for updates from Harrogate and if you’re in Harrogate too, come and say hi! 

Side note: reading this back, you can tell that I’ve had a LOT of coffee today and that I cleaned out my talent for writing words more good getting the latest draft of Distress Signals done last week, can’t you?

24 thoughts on “A Short Story About Scarpetta

  1. cravesadventure says:

    I devoured those books in my early days of mystery reading. My cousin introduced me to Mr. Stephen King and my mom introduced me to John le Carre during that time. I cannot wait to read your book. Happy Reading & Writing 🙂

  2. brmaycock says:

    Can’t remember when (or why) I stopped reading Patricia Cornwell, I remember my obsession with John Grisham came soon after. Either way, I’m pretty sure I was too young to be reading either(I was reading them in between Sweet Valley High and Point Horror, and just before I found Stephen King!) Funny, parents never think to watch what their kids are READING;)

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I know! My parents were exactly the same. I was the eldest though so they couldn’t really do anything.

      It always happened in school. One year when I was in fourth class, so 10, I had a book confiscated from me during lunch! It wasn’t SVH but it was something similar, called like “First Kiss” or something like that. It was TOTALLY innocent but I can imagine what the teachers were thinking! And then I also remember on the very first day of sixth class (12) the teacher asking us what we’d read over the summer and I said Flowers in the Attic and her eyes rolled so far back in her head they went white. 😀

      Did you ever read Christopher Pike? I loved him. Still do. He had one – Master of Murder, I think it was called? – which about a teenage mystery writing sensation who used a pen name, so none of his school friends knew who he was. That was my favorite one because the writer managed to finish a draft of his latest book overnight, which I thought was amazing!

      • brmaycock says:

        I just googled ‘Flowers in the attic’ and I totally see why your teacher freaked out! Christopher Pike sounds familiar but can’t remember why, think I’ve linked him with R.L Stein, not sure why, must get googling again … The book being confiscated thing is such a claim to fame, I used to have conversations with my English teacher on books such as ‘ The Horse Whisperer’ and ‘Anne Frank,’ must have been very much a go with the crowd kinda reader …

  3. brmaycock says:

    Just googled Christopher Pike, what a bibliography!!! it let me back to Point Horror, and I’ve never got such chills ( the good ones!) as I did when I saw all the covers all lined up! ‘ The Cheerleader, The Babysitter, The Snowman …’ The hours I spent EATING these books up, only to give them away- why did I do that?! And when in the hell did I turn so far away from horror? (Will stop commenting now, and start pacing instead;)) Thanks for this post!:)

  4. V. Kathryn Evans says:

    Ha! Amazing – maybe he did know, maybe there is more to this than meets the eye…and congratulaltions,!

  5. Dharmesh says:

    I enjoyed reading it. So did the waiter came to know about the cause of reaction later?
    As of crime novels I have only read Cross of Fire so far which is close to the genre. So I guess I’m reading Patricia in August and hopefully you as well. Just imagine how grand that would be! 🙂

  6. Crystal Kona says:

    Now I must read more Patricia Cornwell… Binge reading time! I’ll be posting a note on my door, in an automatic email, and a notice on my voicemail soon saying “Sorry, I am in an awesome reading session for the next 3 to 4 days. The only living beings who will see and hear from me are my 2 cats.” Crime novels are great. I get lost in any book easily but especially those. I’ve branched out since “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Hobbit” first got me into reading. I really enjoyed this post.

  7. toddvandell says:

    I always enjoy stories of serendipity. I wonder if he overheard the discussion and somehow Scarpetta came through or stuck with him. I like the idea that he just picked a nice pinot grigio and as luck would have it, it was the Scarlett’s

    Scarlett’s label.

    I have seen Scarpetta label wine elsewhere. Not remembering where as it’s been a few years now I think. Great story.

    I have been collecting Cornwell’s novels in paperback for a while. I prefer all the Scarpettas in first person. Don’t read third person novels anymore.

    On the subject of Christopher Pike: I knew the name from Star Trek, as well. But there is an author by that name who writes mostly YA fiction. I have suspected he borrowed the name as a pen name, but I can’t swear to that. If it is not a pen name, it is certainly serendipitous for those of us who are Trekkers and also readers. Hey, got me to grab his books off the shelves, so something to be said for that. Have not read any of his stuff, but he’s on my list.

  8. Steve Higgins says:

    I used to like the Scarpetta books and then they went a bit silly with Scarpetta’s neice starting her own private eye/ secret agent business and that guy who was killed (Benton or Benson, I forget his name!)but then came back because he wasn’t really dead . . By the way, I love blogs that start off about things like Scarpetta then go onto something totally random like wine! Great post,

Leave a Reply to Sally Jenkins Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s