Patricia Cornwell is one of the more renown and successful crime writers of our time. Her corporation has annual earnings of about $10 million. She is a prolific writer, with well over 30 full length books, most of them novels, to her credit, which have sold over 100 million copies and have been translated into roughly 50 languages. And I keep reading her stuff to see why.
Here’s what I like about her writing. First and foremost, she can put words together. That is not as much of a given as you may think with authors. Her characters are very clearly drawn and their behavior is consistent. That’s really important. And the relationships between them make sense.
Her plots are very intricate. There are lines all over the place that appear to be independent of each other and Ms. Cornwell does a great job of tying them all together into a coherent, even reasonable, picture. But many of the lines seem too contrived for any level of reality. I don’t want stories to be real, but I want to think they could be.
As well-drawn as her characters are, they’re too perfect. Oh, Lucy and Marino are a little bit of loose cannons, but they never go overboard and they always get the job done. And Lucy, who is in her early 20s, is the greatest genius in the world about pretty much everything. Everything electronic, anyway. Kay Scarpetta, a chief pathologist and the heroine of most of her books, and her husband, Benton Wesley, have no flaws; they never do anything wrong or even annoying. She doesn’t ever make any mistakes and no one else seems capable of spotting anything before she does.
And boy, are they noble! Especially Benton, who comes from money, but works as an FBI profiler because he is that committed to justice. And, of course, his superiors hate him because his allegiance is to truth, not politics. They always disagree with him and he always turns out to have been right. Apparently, the entire FBI profiler team has no one else who has a clue. Oh, and they’re both gorgeous.
My biggest complaint about her books, though, is that I don’t find them interesting. She does not do a very good job of building tension. With so many different plot lines, most authors go back and forth between them. James Patterson will leave you with a cliff-hanger and then the next chapter picks up with another plot line. It may be three or four chapters before you get the cliff-hanger resolved. But Ms. Cornwall’s chapters just lead one right into the other.
Now, here’s the thing I find the most annoying and the least excuse for in her books: The grammar and punctuation are terrible! I don’t just mean the commas are in the wrong place. I mean it’s so bad I sometimes have to go back over a sentence several times to get what she’s actually saying. The woman has money! You’d think she’d be able to hire a decent proofreader!* Granted, this may bother me more than most readers, but I find it very difficult to take seriously a writer who has that little grasp of punctuation and language usage. Especially when she doesn’t even have to! She can hire someone!
*I may be wrong about this, but most authors hire their own proofreaders. And even if the publishing house did it, I cannot think of any reason somebody somewhere along the line would not have considered this a problem!