Cornwell was born as Patricia Carroll Daniels but later changed her name. Her works include mostly crime and mystery thriller novels. Thanks to a few of the best Patricia Cornwell books that you are about to have a look at, she has become quite the famous author with a list of notable awards behind her name. One of the most popular and best-rated Cornwell books is actually a series, her Kay Scarpetta series.
Patricia was born on June 9th, 1956, in Florida. She has two siblings and is the daughter of one of the leading appellate lawyers in the United States at that time. However, her father is responsible for a lot of emotional abuse that Cornwell had to suffer through. A bit later in her life, she attended King College in Bristol, Tennessee, in pursuit of her writing passions, which is part of the reason for the creation of many of the amazing books you will ever find.
Best Patricia Cornwell Books
Career and Achievements
Thanks to many of the best-selling Patricia Cornwell books, she has managed to sell over 100 million copies of her works, making her the popular author that she is today. She has received countless awards for various works, including an Edgar Award, Anthony Award, Macavity Award, a Gold Dagger, Sherlock Award, RBA Price for Crime Writing, and much more.
These are a few of the best Patricia Cornwell book series and novels that you simply can’t afford to miss if you enjoy reading crime stories. We haven’t made this list ordered, so please note that the novels below are not ranked as the best and worst of Patricia Cornwell’s books.
Kay Scarpetta is the name of the gorgeous blonde that you will never get enough of throughout this entire series. There are 24 books inside, each talking about events that never lack suspense.
Most of the excitement within the series will be brought by the dangerous crimes that happen all the time. Before we show you a few of the books inside Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series, first, you need to meet the protagonist herself and learn a thing or two about her.
Meet Kay Scarpetta
Kay was born in Miami, Florida, in 1954. She is an Italian woman who works as Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia at Richmond. Her everyday work and all the help she provides mainly has to do with her father slowly dying from leukemia when she was just a young girl. Ever since then, she has dedicated her life to helping others.
Many of the books that include Kay Scarpetta are among the best books by Patricia Cornwell out there. There are plenty of events involving this unforgettable character, but there are also lots of others to meet as the story progresses. Everything begins in the first book of the series, Postmortem, which is the best Cornwell book to start with.
Postmortem was the debut novel of the series. It was published in 1990 and is the book that introduces Dr. Kay Scarpetta to all of Patricia’s fans. You might think that the first book of the series doesn’t go into the extremely exciting parts of the story, but you would be wrong. Thanks to the well thought out plot in Postmortem, Patricia won an Edgar Award in 1991, one year after the book came out.
The first of Patricia Cornwell’s best books from this series begins with an early morning call. Richmond has seen quite a lot of unsolved murders recently, and the book opens with another one of these strange killings. Kay is called by Sargeant Pete Marino early one day to tell her about a new murder by what seems to be the same serial killer’s work once more.
A New Definition for Gruesome
When Kay arrives at the scene of the crime, she is in for quite the troubling scenery. She discovers that it’s another female victim. The same clues are popping up once more. The same substance that glows in the dark is there, traces of semen, and a strange smell, it’s all there.
The story does show quite a bit of Kay’s personal life as well. It’s not all crime-solving all the time. You get to meet her exceptionally clever niece, Lucy. The story shifts in and out from her personal life and career. It proves to be one of Patricia Cornwell’s books ranked as the best-selling, and the rest of the story inside the series’ first book is up to you to discover.
Next on this list of the most popular Cornwell books is Body of Evidence. The story begins with a famous writer known as Beryl Madison. She has been feeling paranoid for months, and not without reason. Beryl has been receiving suspicious and threatening phone calls for quite a while now and finally decides to run away after she witnesses a horrifying message scratched on her car.
After she feels that things have settled down, Beryl returns to Richmond and almost gets her head cut off by an unknown person who comes knocking at her door. After a while, Beryl is found stabbed to death. Another character who contributes a lot to this book being a part of the best Cornwell series ever is Madison’s greedy lawyer, who accuses Kay Scarpetta of stealing Beryl’s manuscript.
Getting Too Close
Scarpetta starts working her magic and gathers evidence to find and catch this mysterious killer. Some of the clues lead to a character named Mark James, who also happens to be Kay Scarpetta’s ex-lover.
Mark and Beryl were involved in a legal dispute regarding a matter in his firm. However, he denies all accusations of him being the murderer. Although he is suspicious, we won’t spoil all the fun of who the actual killed is. It could be Mark, but it could also be someone else, someone less suspicious. The surprises are what make this another Patricia Cornwell’s best book out there.
The third book from the Scarpetta series will be bringing you even more unpredictable criminal cases accompanied by Kay and her charms. This time, Richmond sees more and more cases of murdered couples. Until now, there have been four cases that appear to be by the same serial killer. The couples first go missing and turn up somewhere random as mutilated corpses.
It’s up to Kay to find this strange killer, but she soon realizes that all of the investigations turn into dead ends, as this killer seems to be highly skilled at both killing people and covering his or her tracks. Out of many of the books by Cornwell in this series, this killer will present quite difficult to track down, but Kay isn’t without her surprises and special skills as well.
The President’s Daughter
It’s been some time now, and the next victim of the couple’s killer has been announced. This time, the president’s daughter has been kidnapped, and time is quickly running out. Kay knows that, so she puts her skills to work at finding this killer no matter what it takes.
If you know a thing or two about real-life crime, you might guess that the story inside this book is closely based on the Colonial Parkway Killer case that occurred during the 1980s. This killer murdered eight people during that time and Patricia has done a stunning job of creating her version of the story – her best-selling version and another one of the most popular Patricia Cornwell books of all time.
The “unusual” part of this book’s title is spot on, as the next case Kay Scarpetta is about to face will make no sense whatsoever at first. Cruel and Unusual is the fourth book from the series and follows one of the strangest murder cases our protagonist has come across yet.
The story opens with an autopsy that Kay gets called in to perform on a dead inmate known as Ronnie Waddell. The inmate was a convicted murderer, but his death isn’t the strange part of this story.
Killing After Death
Ronnie Wadell had a particular and recognizable way of killing his victims. However, not long after his death, a young boy is found murdered in Ronnie’s style. Aside from that, this still isn’t enough evidence to accuse Ronnie. However, finding his fingerprints at the scene of this crime will do the job. So, how did a dead inmate manage to kill again after, well, dying?
Kay gets help from FBI Agent Benton Wesley and Detective Pete on this case, as the three of them try to find any clue that makes sense. The three of them may not be able to come to any kind of logical conclusion, but Kay’s 17-year-old niece might still have something to offer to the table. Cornwell’s Scarpetta books just seem to be getting more and more thrilling as the stories progress.
It’s no surprise at all that Kay Scarpetta’s services are once again highly required in another murder mystery that involves the killing of a young 11-year-old girl. The victim’s name is Emily Steiner. The weird thing about it is that it happened in a place where there is a total of only one homicide per year, sometimes none. The place we’re talking about is rural North Carolina, and everyone couldn’t be more baffled by the recent tragic events.
So, how does Kay Scarpetta show off in another one of the best Patricia Cornwell novels ever written? Well, she is asked to analyze the dead body as the murder highly resembles the work of a serial killer that the FBI has been trying to catch for a few years. Another character making this book worthy of being called Patricia Cornwell’s best book is Kay’s niece, Lucy. She is helping the case and proving herself to be worthy of Quantico’s computer engineering team.
The Clandestine Research Facility
Until now, you were simply getting to know the facts about the murder mystery, but the part making this book one of the most exciting Cornwell Scarpetta novels is when Kay tries to solve the case. She couldn’t do it on her own and turned to a clandestine research facility known only by the name of Body Farm. We will let your imagination play around with what this name could mean, but you should have a pretty clear idea by now.
This novel is the sixth one from Cornwell’s novels in chronological order and brings back a known nemesis of Kay’s. To make things even more exciting, the horrible series of events and murders take place during and around Christmas. Temple Brooks Gault is back again and is haunting Kay Scarpetta with murders around every corner. The first one she has to deal with involves a murdered homeless woman who had her clothes stripped.
This wasn’t the only murder that night, as Temple even sends his victims to Kay Scarpetta’s morgue where she works. Her nemesis proves to be quite the clever and elusive, yet sick, mastermind who makes the book another one of the best books by Patricia Cornwell ever.
Catch or Be Caught
Even though Temple Gault is a murderer and a serial killer, and needs to be caught, Kay has other, more important reasons for putting him behind bars. She mainly works hard on this case because her survival depends on it. Gault is determined to kill her but not before he has a bit of fun with Kay. That’s why he plays with the bodies and sends them to her, to make her feel terrified before he comes for her.
However, if we’ve learned anything from all of these best-selling Patricia Cornwell books is that Kay isn’t the type of girl not to put up a fight. Get ready to watch Kay Scarpetta at her best, as she tries and does anything to stop the madness regarding Temple Gault.
Cause of Death takes things up a notch, as this time’s murder mystery will be involving a larger plot than anything that has already happened inside Kay Scarpetta books. Before we get to that, let’s explain how this story begins.
Dr. Kay’s most difficult and scariest year is about to come to an end as it is finally New Year’s Eve. However, there will be one more case to be solved when she receives a phone call letting her know that investigative reporter Ted Eddings has been found dead. Why this phone call was made to her instead of the police is yet to be solved, but all in good time.
Ted Eddings’s body was found in a ship graveyard. He was wearing diving gear and presented quite the murder mystery for our protagonist. Little did Kay and the others know that the real trouble inside the best Patricia Cornwell novel was just beginning.
It turns out that Ted’s murder was merely the start of a more elaborate plot that would set a certain series of terrorist attacks into motion. This time, the stakes are higher, many more lives are in trouble, much more is unknown, and the thrill has tripled in another one of the best-rated Patricia Cornwell books.
For the sake of not giving out too many spoilers and ruining the fun of the entire series, we’re going to end our Cornwell book review of the Kay Scarpetta series with the 8th book. There are still 16 more books to go, so you have plenty of excitement to enjoy.
The events in Unnatural Exposure are dangerous, but maybe not as dangerous as some events in other stories of the series. However, when Dr. Kay Scarpetta is presented with analyzing five bodies that are missing their heads and limbs, she realizes that this will be another one of those cases that are extremely difficult to get to the bottom of.
A Troubled Mind
The serial killer in question here will prove to be no ordinary killer. This person is all kinds of messed-up, as he is somehow connected to spreading mutant smallpox, he is responsible for mass murder, and most troubling of all, he sends photos of his naked victims to Kay’s personal email.
We’ll stop with the spoilers here, but be warned that this one is highly likely to be the best Cornwell book of all time. The plot is complex, the criminal is highly dangerous, the stakes are high once again, and the suspense will have you bite your fingernails until the end.
The Andy Brazil series holds three more top Cornwell books that have a fresh batch of crimes prepared for you to read about. Most of the events that take place in these three books will be happening in and around North Carolina and Virginia. As you might have guessed already, Andy Brazil is the protagonist of the series, but he has a few other characters that never leave his side when the going gets tough.
You will get to know plenty about Andy in the following books. He is a young reporter who recently became a rookie cop as he selflessly volunteers to help others. Hornet’s Nest, Southern Cross, and the Isle of Dogs are three more of the best Patricia Cornwell novels that you might want to check out if you enjoy crime stories.
Andy and Friends
First, let’s meet Andy Brazil, the main man and the star of the show. As we mentioned, Andy is a young reporter who is also a volunteer cop. You will find that there is much to learn about Andy, but he won’t be the only one worth reading about in this perfect example of the best Patricia Cornwell series. Andy is constantly around Judy Hammer and Virginia West.
Judy is Chief of Police, and Virginia West is Deputy Chief, and together with Andy Brazil, these characters will make quite the intriguing and unstoppable trio. Now that you’ve met the main characters of this series let’s see what three more of Patricia Cornwell’s books ranked as the best have to offer.
As much as this story focuses on the main character, Andy Brazil, the first book of her series will talk quite a lot about Deputy Chief Virginia West. As you know, this is a crime series, so there has to be some kind of crime going on while you get to know the characters.
On top of the fact that many visiting businessmen are turning up dead, Virginia now has to deal with the fact that Judy Hammer will be riding along with a young reporter because she wants to better the relations with the public.
Overcoming Personal Feelings
Before things get too confusing, rest assured that not everything will be thrown at you all at once like we’re doing here. You will gradually discover that businessman after businessman is being murdered by a killer who enjoys painting their bodies orange for some reason. Even though the entire series talks about these three characters working together, it wasn’t the same at the beginning.
At first, Virginia was not a fan of Andy. He was sloppy, he was only getting in the way, and she had countless other problems to deal with, and Andy was not making things any better. But, as events progress and this book starts turning into another amazing novel, they will start bonding and making things more interesting.
A lot has changed since the last time we saw Andy Brazil and the gang. Judy Hammer is in for quite the challenge with making her city better and making sure to lower the crime rates drastically. Somehow, Andy Brazil has now become a full-time police officer and so begins another adventure that involves too much danger.
Judy, Andy, and Virginia are ready to take on the challenge and take care of crime in the city. If this list of Patricia Cornwell’s books has taught us anything, it’s probably that nothing is as simple as it starts out to be. So, that’s the case in this book as well, but not before she builds her readers up with suspense. At first, our main characters start dealing with street gangs, usual robberies, street corner drug-dealing, shootings, and so on.
Everything was going their way until a computer virus crashes the police’s system and displays a warning message in the appearance of a blue fish. A while later, the same blue fish is seen painted on the statue of Jefferson Davis. After that, a few clues pop up that some of the robberies and other crimes they dealt with are linked.
You’re about to see the best of Patricia Cornwell’s books in the story awaiting inside Southern Cross, as nothing will be as it seems, and many surprises and mysteries are waiting for you to find them.
Isle of Dogs is the third and final book of the series. It might prove to be the best Patricia Cornwell novel ever for many of you who enjoy seeing a bit of comedy in crime stories. Patricia does something that she doesn’t usually include in her stories – she adds funny content. She didn’t make the story a full-on comedy, but it’s nice to add a bit of humor here and there as the main plot progresses, and events start getting juicy.
Much has changed once more since the events of the previous book, Southern Cross. Judy Hammer is now the new superintendent of Virginia’s State Police, and our hero Andy Brazil has recently become a state trooper. One of the best things about this book is reading about all of these characters as they rise up the ranks and change into quite different characters. If you remember, when we first met Andy, he was just a clueless young reporter, and now he is a state trooper.
The plot in this story follows a mission involving several attacks on truck drivers that result in stealing everything the trucks are carrying. Now, Andy Brazil is the one tasked with taking care of these crimes and putting a stop to them once and for all. He enters a chase that leads him to Tangier Island, a place just off the coast of Virginia.
The next two Cornwell books we have to show you will introduce you to yet another character that the author has brilliantly thought of. His name is Winston Garano, a mixed-race state investigator who is never too far away from Boston’s District Attorney, Monique Lamont.
At Risk and The Front are the only two books in this short series, and they belong on our list of Cornwell’s best books. Let’s discover who exactly Win Garano is, what he has to offer to all of Patricia’s fans, and tell a brief review of what goes on inside these two books.
Win Garano is a thrilling character to read about, but his boss Monique Lamont is also someone who you will look forward to seeing inside the story. Monique is quite the woman. She is a go-getter with powerful ambitions, a person who doesn’t back down.
You might think that two books aren’t enough to present a lot of fun with these two characters, but when you get a glance at the dangerous cases and situations Monique sends Win into, you will have plenty of fun to look forward to the best Cornwell series out there.
The Captain Chase series offers two more books, but there are two new Patricia Cornwell books as the second book from the series, Spin, was published not so long ago in 2021. As you might guess, the main character in this series is Captain Calli Chase. This is yet another exciting story by Patricia that adds to the list of crime stories involving even more unforgettable characters.
Captain Chase’s mission might prove a lot more exciting for those of you who enjoy a bit of sci-fi on their plates. The fun in the first book, Quantum, begins when Calli’s sister goes MIA (missing in action). At the same time, Chase notices a tripped alarm in the underground tunnels below a NASA research center.
The Clock Is Ticking
After a series of events that we won’t spoil here, Calli’s sister ends up being responsible for a disaster that is about to take place unless she makes sure to prevent it on time and clear her sister’s name in the process. The stakes are high in this series, making these two Patricia Cornwell’s latest books some of the top Cornwell books and highly desirable among many.
The last book from our Patricia Cornwell book review is a different story than all the others you’ve seen here, as this is both a stand-alone novel and a nonfiction tale. Don’t worry, as Patricia’s unique writing style can still be noticed in this one.
This is the story of Jack the Ripper, also known as Walter Sickert. As you might have noticed from the rest of the best Cornwell books we’ve reviewed, this author knows a lot about crime investigation and has performed an investigation of her own on the life and crimes of this serial killer.
Another Way to Look at the Case
Although unfortunate, Jack the Ripper’s case was already exciting enough to learn about, as he presented quite the mysterious case back in the day. Now, Patricia has gathered never-before-seen material regarding this man and tells another story that could cause chills on your spine. That was the last novel on our list and we hope we helped you make up your mind about what the best Patricia Cornwell books are.
Alissa is an avid reader, blogger, and wannabe writer. (She's a much better cook than a writer actually). Alissa is married, has one human, one feline, and two canine kids. She always looks a mess and never meets a deadline.