Patricia Cornwell is hands down one of the best medical thriller writers of all time!
Her books have plenty of action, plenty of detail, plenty of tension, plenty of twists and turns, and even many red herrings along the way as well.
She is best known for her award-winning series, the Kay Scarpetta series, in which there are several murders to solve in every book, and at the same time, in true crime-thriller formation, the hunter becomes the hunted.
In Feb 2023 it was announced that there’s going to be a TV series adaptation of the Kay Scarpetta series. It has been suggested that Nicole Kidman or Jamie Lee Curtis may play the lead.
All of the Kay Scarpetta novels have been in the Bestseller charts in one form or another, and to this day Cornwell remains one of THE go-to authors in the genre of police procedural and forensic science-based crime thrillers.
About Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta Series
The series follows Dr. Kay Scarpetta, initially (and mostly) as the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia.
Scarpetta generally gets the majority of her clues while performing autopsies on the bodies, using forensic science to get to the bottom of cases.
But then, what makes things even more interesting, is that the serial killers are still out there. And Scarpetta always finds herself in a race against time to prevent the next murder from taking place.
Crucially, however, and adding a further dimension to these novels, the people who are often in the most danger are those who are closest to Scarpetta, including Scarpetta herself.
Many of the stories are of a similar ilk. For example, at the beginning of the series, Scarpetta is the Chief Medical Examiner of Richmond, Virginia and the story is limited to this role and location.
However, as the series progresses, Scarpetta takes up similar complementary roles and some stories even have an international element to them.
Similarly, several of the books have a particularly unique premise, that deviates substantially from the original Kay Scarpetta formula.
It is also worth noting at this point that Cornwell’s writing style can often change from book to book, which some readers have not enjoyed.
That said, however, I strongly recommend that if you’re going to read any Kay Scarpetta books, you do so in order.
That is the chronological order of the storyline, which also happens to be the same as the publication order.
Speaking of which, read on…
Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta Series Books In Order
Here are all 27 books of the Kay Scarpetta series in order…
(Just a quick heads-up, I have tried to make this section as spoiler-free as possible, but unfortunately, some spoilers are inevitable.)
Following a trail of stranglings, Scarpetta suspects there’s a serial killer, who leaves precious few clues. But solving the crimes is not her only problem – someone wants her dead!
- This is the book that started it all!
- It’s a slow burn
When a reclusive author is killed in her own home, Scarpetta begins piecing together who may be responsible, but the killer is still waiting in the shadows ready to strike again.
- Lots of plot twists and turns
- With all the loose ends to be tied, you’ll be itching to read the next book in the series
Young couples are being killed off, their bodies left mutilated. But this time, Scarpetta is up against a murderer who is just as skilled at eliminating clues as she is at finding them.
- You start to see considerable growth in Scarpetta’s style
- Some readers argue there’s too much detail in the red herrings along the way
Scarpetta finds the fingerprints of a murderer on a crime scene after Scarpetta has performed his autopsy. All points lead to a cruel and unusual game where Scarpetta is the true target.
- A taut thriller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats
- Some readers found the ending unsatisfactory
In this book, Scarpetta has to apply her skills to the corpse of an 11-year-old girl. However, this body was found at “the body farm”, a research institute that tests the decomposition of corpses.
- Many twists and turns that you will not see coming
- One of Scarpetta’s most gruesome projects
Upon examining a body found in Central Park, Scarpetta immediately recognizes the work of Temple Gault.
She soon realizes that Gault’s murders are a violent chain leading to one ultimate kill – Scarpetta herself.
- Quality writing with a fast-paced story that keeps readers gripped
- If you read the Temple Gault books in the wrong order, it will spoil the story for you
A diver and investigative reporter known to Scarpetta is found dead in an icy river, but Scarpetta hears about it before it was reported to the police, and it appears there’s a foreboding trail of death to investigate.
- By this point in the series, the characters start to feel like family
- Some readers found it predictable
This story begins with a copycat killing spree, and this time the killer’s weapon of choice is a deadly virus.
- A definitive page-turner from the very beginning right the way through to the end
- Ends with lots of unanswered questions, to get you wanting to read the next book in the series
This book sees Scarpetta uncovering human remains in a wreckage following a devastating fire.
And the culprit of these murders appears to be an old nemesis who has escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane. Scarpetta has to counter their every move.
- You will most certainly become invested in the character’s story
- Scarpetta’s personality takes a turn for the worse
This is basically a short story set at Christmastime designed to remind the readers why they like the main characters so much.
- Comes with recipes
- Not at all like the rest of the books in the series
Scarpetta examines a decomposed body that leaves no clues to the cause of death other than an old tattoo. And Scarpetta has to choose between protecting her career or finding out the truth.
- An international story that leads to France
- You may need a strong stomach to deal with some of the material
The so-called Werewolf murders may have extended to New York City, and Scarpetta comes into suspicion as she struggles to let the truth prevail against mounting evidence to the contrary
- Takes readers deeper into Scarpetta’s heart and soul than ever before
- Some readers found this book to feel contrived
Scarpetta is investigating a murder when an unrepentant murderer demands an audience with her in his cell on death row.
Scarpetta doesn‘t see his end game until she’s hit with a blow that leads her to question all she holds dear.
- A new setting and a new (related) role for Scarpetta
- Cornwell changes her writing style from first person to third person
This scene sees Scarpetta back in Richmond as a consultant, where everything has changed.
Scarpetta investigates the death of a 14-year-old girl, and in doing so reveals a sad truth that is hard for even Scarpetta to bear.
- Readers get to catch up on the life of Scarpetta’s niece Lucy
- Although the story ties up several loose ends, it also leaves several loose ends untied at the end
This book sees Scarpetta investigating the disappearance of two sisters. A trail of clues leads her to a jailed serial killer and his psychopathic depths.
- Cornwell goes back to using the present tense
- There are chapters from the murderer’s point of view
- There’s less mystery in this book than in the others
This story tells of a string of murders that are hard to imagine, and as the morgue log, the book of the dead fills up with names, it may be Scarpetta’s name that comes next.
- Cornwell has shaken things in this one with the introduction of a compelling new character
- Some readers felt that the story wasted too much time on irrelevancies
Set in New York City, Scarpetta is asked to examine an injured man on a psychiatric prison ward who says his injuries were sustained in a murder he did not commit.
More deaths are sure to follow, and Scarpetta enlists the help of her forensic psychologist husband and her niece, forensic computer investigator Lucy.
- This novel has more elements to it than other Scarpetta books, with forensic psychology and computer hacking
- Some readers found it predictable who the killer was
After adding a pro bono case to her busy schedule, she finds she has increased visibility and is even asked to launch her own TV show based around her, but she finds herself embroiled in a bizarre plot concerning the disappearance of a millionaire.
- It’s a whole new take on the usual Scarpetta format
- Some readers found the ending confusing
Scarpetta faces a striking case where it appears someone was still alive when they were sent to the mortuary in a body bag in a series of murders.
This case could ruin her professionally, and she has to race against time to find out who is behind it all and why.
- Features a new groundbreaking forensic science procedure – “virtual autopsy”
- Some readers found the tech info confusing
Scarpetta has both personal and professional reasons to learn more about a string of grisly murders, including that of her former deputy chief, Jack Fielding, which seems to be just the beginning of something significantly more destructive.
- There’s a conspiracy on an international scale
- The parts featuring Scarpetta being harsh with herself aren’t nice to read, and it drags out a little
This story covers the disappearance of a woman while digging in a dinosaur bone bed in Canada, which appears to link to crimes closer to Scarpetta’s home.
Everyone around her seems to have secrets, leaving Scarpetta feeling alone and betrayed as she tracks down the cruel and cunning killer.
- Considerable appeal for those interested in life in prehistoric times
- Cornwell returns to her original writing style
- Some characters that readers have grown to enjoy get written out
Scarpetta examines the body believed to belong to a missing computer engineering grad student who was murdered mere weeks before the trial in her $100 million lawsuit against her former manager.
While Scarpetta endeavors to get to the bottom of it all, she fears her computer genius niece Lucy is somehow involved.
- Delves into the worlds of drone technology, organized crime, and shocking corruption
- Scarpetta uses a real-life school shooting as a trope in this novel
There’s a serial sniper on the loose, and only Scarpetta can solve the case. Unfortunately, however, this time she begins to suspect her own flesh and blood, her techno genius niece, Lucy.
- Flesh and Blood returns to the formula that made Cornwell’s early novels must-reads
- It ends with quite a cliffhanger and no closure
Among a series of mysterious deaths, Scarpetta starts to receive videos concerning her niece Lucy, and the FBI are putting a case together that could send Lucy to prison for life, and Scarpetta has no one to turn to, not even her FBI husband.
- Barely a dead body in sight
- There are some rather gruesome descriptions
Marino and Brenton start receiving suspicious calls allegedly from Interpol, while Scarpetta has been getting cryptic messages.
The second in a series of deaths strikes Scarpetta to her core, as she faces a bigger danger than ever before.
- There are some revelatory character moments
- This is one of the more detail-heavy novels in the series
Scarpetta is summoned to the White House and is tasked with working the first potential crime scene in space. Meanwhile, an apparent serial killer strikes again very close to home.
- Scarpetta is back to her original role of Chief Medical Examiner for Richmond, Virginia
- Some fans were disappointed with this book
This most recent installment sees Scarpetta as a star witness in a murder trial.
Then the judge’s sister is found dead, along with telltale signs of the unthinkable, with the promise of worse to come and a race to catch the killer from her past before it’s too late.
- This book is a prominent bestseller in the category of medical thrillers
- Classic Cornwell but with a more contemporary plot set in 2022
- Some readers have felt there’s too much description and not enough storyline details
If you’ve been reading the descriptions of the books as you’ve scrolled through, you will have seen just how much variety of storylines and twists there are in the series…
In terms of who the murderers are, in terms of what’s at stake for Scarpetta, her loved ones, and the community, in terms of who she feels she can and cannot trust, and even in terms of her location and professional role.
Even when repeat characters are brought back in, there is also some new twist to it that the reader was never expecting. And of course, there’s also a great deal of character development as the series progresses.
This is why I must insist that the best way to enjoy this series is to read the books in their intended order…
Even if the premise of one book sounds more interesting than another, you will lose out if you just read the books randomly. Even when the cases are very different, the full story builds from one book to the next.
But before you begin, I suggest that you ensure that you’re prepared for what to expect.
There is a heavy focus, all the way through, on dead bodies in various degrees of decomposition, and the descriptions around the autopsies are very descriptive.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I Have To Read Kay Scarpetta In Order?
The Kay Scarpetta series is best enjoyed in its chronological order, which is also the publication order, in order for you to get the most out of each of the books.
Is The Scarpetta Series Over?
No one knows! You’d be well advised to follow the author on social media to find out if there will be more.
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