From Postmortem to Chaos: All of Patricia Cornwell’s Books In Order

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all of patricia cornwell’s books in order

Kay Scarpetta is set to come to the big screen three decades after inspiring the TV crime procedural genre. Patricia Cornwell, the author of the Scarpetta series, is one of the most influential crime fiction writers. Her novels focus on the forensic aspect of crime-solving, and her lead character is inspired by a real-life medical examiner.

In this article, you will learn more about Cornwell’s bibliography and biography, including the incidents that inspired the creation of her iconic Scarpetta character. 

This post is the most comprehensive resource compiling Cornwell’s books in order, the best books she has written, and the answers to questions most fans have regarding Scarpetta and Cornwell. And it starts with a glance at the author’s best works.

our best Patricia Cornwell Books at a glance:

Who Is Patricia Cornwell, The Author Of Kay Scarpetta Novels?

Patricia Cornwell was born Patricia Caroll Daniels on June 9, 1956, in Miami. She is the daughter of Sam and Marylin Daniels. Cornwell grew up in an emotionally abusive household, which she would later cite as one of her influences.

Her father was a leading appellate lawyer and had served as a law clerk to Hugo Black. While he had a strict work ethic, his attitude towards his family wasn’t as reliable as his legal work. Her father left the family on Christmas Day in 1961, which left Cornwell with emotional scars.

While he would ultimately reconnect with his family, he maintained his distance from Patricia. He said, “I love you,” exclusively to her brother when he was on his deathbed.

Her mother had severe bouts of depression, and Cornwell found herself looking at Ruth Bell Graham, who had taken the family in as a guiding figure. Fortunately for Cornwell, Graham noticed her writing talent and encouraged her to write more. 

Cornwell was studious and scored well in her exams. Her extracurricular interests were also positive, and she had established herself as a student-athlete on the tennis court and a promising cartoonist before she went to Davidson College.

She had started at King College in Bristol, but Davidson had offered her a lucrative tennis scholarship. She graduated from Davison with a BA but didn’t continue on her scholarship track.

After graduating from college, Cornwell became a reporter for the Charlotte Observer. She had started as an entry-level listings editor, graduated to feature writing, and eventually carved out a niche in reporting on crime. That is where she discovered her genre of interest, which would eventually set her up as one of the most successful female writers in recent memory.

Cornwell popularized forensic-evidence-driven plots, which are now integral to detective fiction. She helped shape the crime fiction genre in the 80s and crime television in the 90s. If the influence of forensics-driven fiction on non-fiction media is to be considered, Cornwell can be credited to some extent for the true crime podcasting boom.

That might sound like a reach, but Patricia Corwell is unlike other crime writers. Her background as a crime reporter lends her the authority and knowledge base to produce important works. Among her contributions is positioning Walter Sickert as a potential suspect behind “Jack the Ripper.”

While her self-funded investigation and the subsequent book got her plenty of media attention, her most popular work remains within the canon of the Kay Scarpetta series.

But there would be no Kay Scarpetta if there were no Marcella Farinelli Fierro, a real-life Virginia Chief Medical Examiner (now retired) whom Patricia Cornwell came across in her crime reporting days. In a way, the days of crime reporting for Patricia Cornwell served as the launch pad for her fiction writing days in more than one way.

Not only did she get interested in writing about crime, but she also came across an individual worth fictionalizing. Cornwell has been very open about being inspired by Marcella Fierro and was even present at her retirement party. Whether Fierro will be at Patricia Cornwell’s retirement party is yet to be seen because the crime author doesn’t seem to be remotely interested in putting down the pen.

patricia cornwell’s books
Patricia Cornwell’s Books

Patricia Cornwall Books In Order Of Publication

Andy Brazil / Judy Hammer Series In Order Of Publication

Win Garano series In Order of Publication

Captain Chase Series In Order of Publication

Children’s Books In Order of Publication

Non-fiction Books In Order of Publication

Best Patricia Cornwell Books to Read

Postmortem (1990)


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Postmortem is the first book in the Scarpetta series and debuts the series’ titular character. It is one of the most influential books in crime fiction and a must-read for all crime fiction lovers. It is a trailblazing story of a medical examiner sniffing out a serial killer.

Some of the plot points in this book that have now become solid tropes in broader crime fiction include leaking fake stories to enrage the criminal on the loose, using forensic evidence to catch the criminal, and a potential savior being responsible for crimes. Not much else can be said about its plot without spoiling the events of the story.

Hornet’s Nest (1996)

Hornet's Nest

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Where the Kay Scarpetta character is a solo genius who teams up with whomever she must in any given book, the characters in Cornwell’s Andy Brazil series work as a cast of crime solvers. Virginia West, Judy Hammer, and Andy Brazil are the three characters introduced in this series. Brazil is a journalist and volunteer cop who helps the actual cops make some breakthroughs.

It is hard not to see the connection between Cornwell’s background as a journalist and Andy Brazil. This book is a great start to the Brazil trilogy and is considered one of her most popular works.

Quantum (2019)


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Quantum, unlike most of Cornwell’s books, is not a Scarpetta novel. It is a part of the Captain Chase series, launched relatively late in her career. It follows Calli Chase, a multi-dimensional and multitalented character who foresees a potential vulnerability in national security and has to race against time to save the US from a threat that no one is aware of.

The character is reminiscent of Cornwell herself in her college years when she was a promising tennis athlete, scholarship-earning student, and an accomplished cartoonist. Captain Chase is a NASA pilot, quantum physicist, and cybercrime investigator.

In this entry, he realizes that an upcoming blizzard coinciding with a government shutdown could make the country vulnerable to an intangible attack, which could have serious, tangible consequences.

Scarpetta (2008)


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In Scarpetta, the medical examiner and crime investigation consultant is called to New York, where a chained and handcuffed psychiatric patient is asking for her specifically by name. The patient claims that he got injured and framed and that the actual killer is spying on him. Whether Scarpetta buys into what seem like paranoid tall tales or dismisses what could be a true story, this is her dilemma.

The Body Farm (1994)

The Body Farm

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This book sets up a plot that serves as an excuse to put Kay Scarpetta in touch with the Tenessee Body Farm. In solving the murder of an 11-year-old, Scarpetta reaches out to the facility that studies the decomposition of bodies in various settings.

The story is as compelling as any Scarpetta novel, and it offers insight into a niche field of study within broader anthropology. The book also features Scarpetta’s niece as a secondary character now that she has joined as an FBI intern, setting her up as a potential spin-off protagonist.

Body of Evidence (1991)

Body of Evidence

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Postmortem, the first Kay Scarpetta book, was never set up as a series launch. It had the potential to be one, but it wasn’t guaranteed that Scarpetta would return. Body of Evidence is the second book in the Kay Scarpetta canon and solidifies the chief medical examiner as a series lead and not just a story protagonist. In this story, Kay Scarpetta tries to solve a string of murders that start with the death of a romance writer.

It also has a romantic angle that leans on the return of Scarpetta’s long-lost lover. This entry offers an interesting insight into the character, history, and origins of Kay Scarpetta. That’s why all late-stage Scarpetta fans should read it alongside Postmortem.

The Scarpetta Factor (2009)

The Scarpetta Factor

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The Scarpetta Factor addresses fame and notoriety, which are the byproducts of helping close as many cases as Scarpetta has helped close. It also factors in the capitalistic side of a protagonist’s daily life. After getting pitched by producers, Kay Scarpetta starts a show where she goes over the details of some of the bizarre cases she has encountered.

While the medical examiner has reservations about the myth being built around her abilities, she wants to educate the public. But in the process, she starts attracting the wrong kind of attention. From suspicious packages being delivered to her apartment to strange call-ins, the unexpected twists keep the narrative fresh and drive the plot forward.

Cause of Death (1996)

Cause of Death

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In this early Scarpetta story, the medical examiner is already pretty cozy with the police. But she has not yet achieved the level of fame necessary to receive crime notifications before the police. Yet strangely, that’s what happens. Kay Scarpetta is told about the death of an investigative reporter before the police.

Ted Eddings was found dead in his diving gear. Now she has to figure out whether the reporter was diving for trinkets or working on a story. She is accompanied on this investigation by her niece Lucy and Pete Marino, the police captain. The forensic evidence and her partners’ deductions bring the trio to the conclusion that a terrorist plot is in progress. Will they be able to foil it?

Patricia Cornwell FAQs

How Many Books Are In Scarpetta Series?

The Scarpetta Series has 26 novels, with the latest being published in 2022. The Scarpetta Series has averaged 0.8 books per year. The author takes hiatuses that can last up to four years, so there’s no telling when the 26-novel total will be updated with a new release.

Fortunately, most of Scarpetta’s stories are timeless, and even the dated elements are charming and read like time-bound fiction referencing the past. The plot, mystery, clues, and conclusion still ring true. If you like Scarpetta novels, you can revisit the ones that have already been published.

Do You Need to Read The Scarpetta Series In Order?

You can read all Scarpetta books out of order as they feature different, standalone mysteries. However, reading them in order gives you a better experience of the overall character development of the protagonist and other recurring characters.

There is no need to read all Scarpetta books to enjoy any particular book, but it still helps to read at least the first entry in the Scarpetta series before you approach any other book in the Kay Scarpetta canon.

How Many Books Has Patricia Cornwell Sold?

Patricia Cornwell has sold over 100 million copies of her 26 novels in three decades. She is a pioneer of forensics-driven fiction and is considered one of the most influential crime writers in contemporary fiction.

What Genre is Patricia Cornwell?

Patricia Cornwell writes crime fiction, with thriller and mystery elements embedded in some of her stories. Most of her stories feature Kay Scarpetta, a character inspired by a real-life crime examiner.

Most Scarpetta plots unfold like puzzles with clues peppered throughout the book, coming to a grand conclusion towards the end. People who like general crime fiction are very likely to enjoy Cornwell’s books, but so are people interested in cryptography, puzzle-driven plots, and thrillers.

Is Patricia Cornwell Still Writing?

Patricia Cornwell is still writing novels. She has not retired any characters and has not announced plans to give up writing fiction. Therefore, her book sales totals and bibliography round-ups should not be considered final.

Wrapping It Up

Patricia Cornwell is the pioneer of medical-evidence-driven plots in crime fiction. She has a background in crime reporting, so her connections and research produce authentic and believable narratives. If you like her writing style, you have at least 26 novels to read in the Kay Scarpetta series alone. 

She has written two-parters and trilogies as well, which venture into different territories while remaining under a crime-fighting umbrella. 

Her books are covered in the order of publication in this post. You can use that as a reading guide, regardless of which Cornwell series you want to start with.

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Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories. She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.