Patricia Cornwell's novel, The Body Farm, is undoubtedly one of her best and most successful novels. With at least a month on the bestsellers list, The Body Farm remains a favorite among Cornwell's followers. Th
is following is definitely a notable one due to many attributes of her writing. Critics and the public alike praise Cornwell for her use of expertise in her writing field, passion in her writing, and deep and interesting characterizations. These have in
fluenced Cornwell's popularity and have placed her in the public eye, highlighting and causing scandals. Needless to say, Patricia Cornwell's celebrity status has heightened over the past years beginning with the release of The Body Farm.
This escalation is in part due to Cornwell's apparent expertise in her writing field. One reviewer writes, "Cornwell knows her stuff, alveolar spaces but the soul as well, and how to make a story"(Bookworld 8). Thus, critics observe that Cornwell writes
her stories in a detailed manner that obviously enhances the story line. For one who has not even attended medical school, her use of bodily and technical jargon is impressive. She acquired this knowledge by witnessing hundreds of autopsies and then la
nding a job as a computer analyst in which she collected data in the medical examiner's office. She later joined the volunteer police force, monitored murder trials, attended pathology classes, and spent weekends riding with homicide detectives.
This overexposure to a life of lasers, computerized fingerprint analysis, skin-pattern interpretations and time of death investigations has prompted Cornwell to write about what she had grown to know best. In The Body Farm, she writes about the grueling
investigation of an 11 year old girl who appears to have been sexually abused, brutally murdered, and covered in hunter orange duct tape. As an example of Cornwell's acquired expertise, she goes on to discover that the child's mother was the unexpected
killer. How does Scarpetta, the main character of her series, determine this? She notices a strange imprint on the child's left buttock, and studies it further to determine it as evidence of the girl lying on top of a quarter for 6 days. Scarpetta fin
ds this quarter in the mother's bathtub. Yet another example of her expertise at its finest is Scarpetta's investigation of the mysterious blaze orange duct tape. Her description of the tape is amazing,
"This is industrial grade, with a yarn count of sixty-two warp and fifty-six woof, versus your typical economy grade of twenty/ten that you might pick up at Walmart or Safeway for a couple of buck...Also, the sequence the tape was torn from the roll i
s inconsistent...the tape was ready and waiting for him, one piece at a time"(Cornwell 197).
Scarpetta apparently spends days with gas chromatographs, mass spectrometers, differential scanning calorimeters, and other "intimidating instruments." Cornwell's dedication to research and attention to detail are astounding and absolutely a top factor
concerning the popularity of this and her other novels.
Another element that contributes to Patricia Cornwell's increasing popularity is her passion in writing. This passion stems from past events of Cornwell's life that she therapeutically plays out through the plot of her novels. This is not obvious to all
readers, but a careful analysis, along with a brief history, soon reveals how Patricia Cornwell recovers from a troubled past through her writing. At the age of five Patricia was molested by a man she knew near her home in Miami, her brother chased the
man away and he was never charged with the incident. In the same year, her parents divorced and she and her siblings moved with her mother to North Carolina. There, her mother suffered a nervous breakdown, was committed for deep depression, and decided
she could no longer care for her children. The children moved around from family to family, including brief periods with the Reverend Billy Graham and his wife Ruth. Mrs. Cornwell left and returned to treatment several times during Patricia's childhood
. As an adolescent, Cornwell showed a promising future as a local tennis star but then started losing matches and soon battled with anorexia nervosa. She went on to college but dropped out after a short time. She later marries but divorces after realiz
ing the lack of success in she and her husband's relationship.
How do these events elicit novels that double as personal therapy sessions for Cornwell? They control her characterizations and plot. Cornwell's novels are full of men who make mistakes or are weak and hurtful. She is obviously portraying what she know
s of men as a result of two significant early events, her molestation and the divorce of her parents. In The Body Farm, there are four main male characters. The first, Pete Marino, is Scarpetta's partner who is jealous and hostile. He often shows displ
ays of anger and, in this novel, dates a psychopath. Thus, he shows that Cornwell thinks of men as individuals who have uncontrollable tempers and make bad choices when it comes to dealings with women. Scarpetta's lover, Benton Wesley, is an extension o
f the latter point for they are having an adulterous affair. They also have an explosive relationship, yet another unreliable, faulty relationship representative of those Cornwell has had. This relationship is testimony of a true to life affair Cornwell
was having at the time of her writing this novel. The third does not have a large role, but is a significant figure. He is the detective who is first assigned to the young girl's murder, but he is soon murdered and left as though it was the result of a
utoerotic asphyxiation. Instead, he was murdered by the girl's mother, yet another example of man being weaker than woman. The fourth significant man is Senator Lord who is a helpful, fatherly figure. He is the ideal in Scarpetta and Cornwell's life, b
ut is also portrayed as not being around often. Apparently Cornwell does not trust men and portrays them as untrusworthy, disloyal and weak. These qualities either stem from her perceptions of men as a result of her traumatic life or are insults intende
d to gain revenge against those who have hurt her.
This display of aggression and disappointment through her writing makes for undeniably passionate writing. She does not stop with men, though. Cornwell develops unusually deep characterizations of her two main female characters. This development of cha
racter is another attractive quality of her writing. Cornwell's two main characters are simply extensions of herself. Though Patricia Cornwell denies that she models any of her characters, it is difficult to deny that she is the spitting image of her ma
in character, Kay Scarpetta.
"...Both Cornwell and Scarpetta are blond, from Miami, divorced, childless, drive Mercedes-Benzes, like to cook, and live in the same posh neighborhood [in Richmond, Virginia]"(Treen 26).
Moreover, Scarpetta is a strong, intelligent, successful woman. This is most likely the same image Cornwell holds of herself. They are both interested and invest their lives in forensic science. Another striking similarity is the occurrence of similar
affairs in both their lives. Scarpetta, in The Body Farm, has an affair with an FBI agent. One key difference in the two situations, though, ties in Cornwell's similarity to her other main character. Patricia Cornwell, at the same time, has an affair w
ith an FBI agent, but her married lover is another woman. I believe that Cornwell deals with her sexuality through the character of Lucy, Scarpetta's lesbian niece. Lucy's reveals her sexuality through a scandal with a fellow female FBI agent, as is Cor
nwell's as a result of her affair with an FBI agent. Cornwell creates characters who even doubt Scarpetta's sexuality, "...just because you're never with men and probably don't like sex doesn't mean you're a homo...Though I've heard rumors"(Cornwell 343)
. It is difficult to determine whether or not Cornwell is using an element of irony or once again working out her life through her writing. Regardless of the reason, her characters are clearly a continuation of herself and therefore full of life.
These characters are largely why The Body Farm is such a hit and why Cornwell's novels continue to be. Cornwell seems to continue to attract followers who continue to buy The Body Farm, along with the other noivels in the series. Part of this new attrac
tion is that Cornwell is now in the public eye. She is becoming increasingly well known through a series of scandals which have proved to increase the popularity of books like The Body Farm. The first scandal involves her illicit lesbian affair with an
FBI agent. The scandal would most likely have not been a big event had the woman's husband not created an elaborate plan to kill his wife. This exposed Cornwell's alternative sexuality at the same time The Body Farm was released. Another scandal not as
well known is Cornwell's alleged obsession with Jodie Foster. Although this can not be proven, it remains an example of the type of attention Cornwell receives. She is stalked and receives frightening attention also. Despite adverse situations, Cornwe
ll remains a respected author with a respectable following.
According to some reviewers, The Body Farm follows the suit of books like The Silence of the Lambs, another popularly gruesome mystery novel. One writes,
"With [The Body Farm and] The Silence of the Lambs, female detectives who were a far cry from Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher and an interest in new forensic technologies had just come into vogue"(McElwaine 148).
Both are accounts of strong female investigators tracking down extremely dangerous and perverse killers. The Silence of the Lambs is more suspenseful than The Body Farm, but both appeal to an intelligent approach to crime fighting. The authors of both e
xplain these pursuits in fine detail. In some way, the reader appreciates the authors consideration that complicated matters are not above their heads and enjoy challenging information. The Silence of the Lambs was made into a movie, whereas the body Fa
rm has not been translated into other media. Perhaps the popularity of this movie should be an indication that The Body Farm would also be a successful one.
Readers seem to have taken an increasing interest in books with information in the area of the author's expertise. This phenomenon has been a catchy one in the past and present decade with the popularity of other authors like Tom Clancy and John Grisham.
Patricia Cornwell expertly explores death and her way of doing so is irresistible. This is what she knows and she magically intices her audience to want to know and read more. Her magic lies in the secrets with which she ignites her soul and sets her
pen on fire. She does all of this tastefully, though, and says,
"Some people write horrible, sadistic scenes. Death and pain are not sexy. They leave terrible marks that are ugly and last forever. My stories are filtered through the feelings and sensitivity of an intelligent woman"(McElwaine 148).
One could not say it better. Even the above statement reveals her own pain reflected in her writing. She undeniably feels her work and desires for the reader to as well. The Body Farm certainly, as one critic puts it, is "emotionally satisfying reading
"(Library Journal 213).