How Virginia impacted the life — and stories — of renown crime writer Patricia Cornwell

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'My whole career began here'

HAMPTON, Va. (WRIC) — Crime writer Patricia Cornwell’s new series is returning to Virginia. Instead of taking on murderers on the streets of Richmond, the first book of the ‘Captain Chase’ series starts off at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton.

Cornwell invested years in Richmond while writing the ‘Dr. Kay Scarpetta’ series about a medical examiner who took investigating murders into her own hands. The plots focused on forensic science, inspiring television series on crime scene investigations.

Readers met Scarpetta at the height of her career, but in this new novel the main female character is just starting off as a NASA Pilot investigating cybercrimes. Throughout the book, Captain Calli Chase is racing the clock before a top-secret space mission.

Capitol Bureau Reporter Sara McCloskey spoke with the author at the Langley Air and Space Center in Hampton.

“Captain Chase is a very different character than Scarpetta. Instead of going to a scene where something bad has already happened and you’ve been called in to clean up the mess – so to speak – Captain Chase is going into something where she’s afraid something bad is going to happen,” Cornwell explained. “The real villain in this new series is not the serial killer who is going to climb through your window, it’s technology and people who use it in a really big and bad way.”

WEB EXTRA: Cornwell explains how first page sets the tone for new crime series

Cornwell is known for getting hands-on experience from experts while researching her novels. Captain Calli Chase, the main character in “Quantum,” grew up outside the NASA Langley Research Center with her twin sister, Carme.

Cornwell spent countless hours at the center to learn what happens behind closed doors at one of the nation’s most top-secret programs. Cornwell has been training with astronaut Peggie Whitson and plans to do a zero-gravity flight as well.

“Putting a face on that because people don’t know what goes on in these places,” Cornwell explained. “Just because you see a rocket going up doesn’t mean you have any idea of where these technologies are going.”

A place that’s special for Cornwell is the Commonwealth. Not only did NASA’s program start here, but so did her career.

“My whole career began here. And I’m very grateful to the people here. The Scarpetta series would have never been what it was if it wasn’t for Virginia and Virginians,” Cornwell said. “I hope they’re going to love something new that celebrates some of the finest people and one of the finest places I’ve ever been.”

As we begin to watch a new journey for one of Cornwell’s female heroines, some may wonder where Scarpetta is. After 24 books, the author says she only works on one character at a time. But, she’s not counting out the possibility of her most famous character and newest one eventually crossing paths.

WEB EXTRA: ‘It could be they run into each other someday’

“But I left [Scarpetta] as the new chief of Virginia… It’s kind of funny, we’re all in the same airspace,” she said. “It could be that they run into each other someday.”

Patricia Cornwell was also a victim of crime herself at a young age. In this web-exclusive video, she explains how that episode impacted her work and about the ‘level of shame that victims should never feel.’

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