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Murder She Writes, but Without the Violence

A DENIZEN of the morgue, Patricia Cornwell presents her readers with the effects of violence after the fact - coldly, dispassionately - through the science of forensics. She makes dead men tell tales. What makes her want to "pull back the sheet," as she puts it? One factor is her outrage at murder, especially the murder of helpless women. She gauges her success by readers getting a sense of how "my feelings come across." And her ability to blend the intensity of emotion with the cool detachment of scenes she recreates in the morgue makes her a rising star of the mystery genre.

The best, and most acceptable, way to deal with the evil inherent in murder cases is through a scientific, investigative, problem-solving approach, Ms. Cornwell says. "I don't want to add to the violence," and "I never really show violence," she says during an early-morning interview at a Boston hotel while on a promotion tour for her latest book, "Body of Evidence."

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Before she sets pen to paper, she intuits a crime. Then, like a medical examiner, she works back to motive as she lets her deductive reasoning draw conclusions for her characters and, by proxy, her readers.

Her first mystery, "Postmortem," was a main selection of the Mystery Guild. It was picked up by Avon paperbacks and won the John Creasley Award from the British Crime Writers' Association for the best first crime novel of the year. Last month she signed a $385,000 deal for the paperback rights for her second novel, "Body of Evidence."

Having reached that stage in a writer's life where a professional career takes off, Cornwell now faces the welcome problem of what to do about movie rights. She will not tolerate a book or movie centered on "showing graphic violence," she says. She hopes to have some say in how any movie of one of her books would be done, knowing that once the rights are sold, she risks having little control. But she does not intend to be like writers who "close their eyes, look the other way, and just kiss a book goodb ye," she says.

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