Kay Scarpetta is a fictional character and protagonist in a series of crime novels written by Patricia Cornwell (born 1956). She first appears in the 1990 novel Postmortem. The character was inspired by former Virginia Chief Medical Examiner Marcella Fierro, MD (retired). The series is noted for the use of recent forensic technology in Scarpetta's investigations.
Fictional character biography
Dr. Kay Scarpetta was born in Miami, Florida, in 1954. She is of Italian descent on both sides of her family, with the Scarpettas emigrating from Verona, Italy. She is blonde, and a sharp dresser, although always professional. As a young girl, she watched her father die slowly from leukemia, and the experience remained with her ever since, translating into her everyday work life, where she is surrounded by death. She is a perfectionist, an incredibly hard worker completely immersed in her work. Scarpetta loves to cook, particularly Italian food. She makes everything from scratch, including pasta and bread, and has a beautiful, custom-built restaurant kitchen in her home.
She was married once, to Tony Benedetti; they divorced about 6 years before the beginning of the first novel set in 1986, Postmortem. Since then she had a serious relationship with Mark James, who died in a bombing in a London Tube station (in the novel Cruel and Unusual) and later Benton Wesley, who was supposedly killed in Point of Origin but later reappeared. In 2007's The Book of the Dead, Scarpetta and Wesley become engaged. By the beginning of 2008's Scarpetta, Benton and Kay are married.
In addition to a large custom-built house that includes a restaurant kitchen, a great room, and a mud room, Scarpetta also drives a new Mercedes, which she replaces often: in one case, after Lucy wrecks it, and in another after it is involved in the murder of her morgue assistant. (He is not killed in it but near it.) She can't bear to drive it after his death, so she trades it in for a nearly identical car.
In the early novels Scarpetta is the Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia and works in Richmond. She resigns after the events of The Last Precinct and relocates to Florida to become a private forensic consultant. Scarpetta returns to Virginia in Trace, convincing herself that she was fired from her position, at the request of her replacement, Dr. Joel Marcus. In Predator, Scarpetta becomes the head of the National Forensic Academy in Hollywood, Florida, a private institution founded by her wealthy niece Lucy. In The Book of the Dead, Scarpetta has relocated as a freelance forensic examiner/expert to Charleston, South Carolina. In Scarpetta(2008), she has relocated to Massachusetts, where she is an M.E., but she and Benton also share an apartment in New York City. In The Scarpetta Factor (2009), she is working full-time and Wesley is working part-time in New York.
The name Scarpetta is a diminutive, meaning "Little Shoe", as revealed in the 2009 novel The Scarpetta Factor. This novel points out that the underlying pun is similar to the name of Caligula. whose name means "Little Boot" in Latin. The novel features a website named Caligula, which is involved indirectly in the murder of a young woman.
Recurring characters in the series
Lucy is first introduced in Postmortem as a precocious 10–year–old, the only child of Kay's sister Dorothy, who is presented as flighty, irresponsible, and narcissistic, the last of which is common to Scarpetta. Lucy has a natural aptitude for computers and easily learns UNIX, which she later uses while working for the FBI. She looks to her Aunt Kay for stability and understanding, and although she is frequently sulky in her adolescence, she shapes herself into a very strong woman with Kay's model to follow. She enters the FBI at 18, but is not well accepted due to her suspected sexual orientation and her genius IQ. Lucy has a habit of establishing long-term romantic relationships which last a few books and then end with little explanation. For example, Jo is last seen taken home (in Black Notice) by her parents following an underground operation that went bad during which Lucy shot her. She also has several one-night stands—even a few with men—and engages in other risky behaviors with firearms and various high-speed vehicles. At one point, she gets drunk and wrecks Kay's new Mercedes-Benz. She also gets into a firefight between two helicopters, using handheld firearms.
Early in her FBI career, Lucy is seduced by Carrie Grethen, a sociopathic coworker who is in cahoots with Temple Gault, a cold-blooded murderer who had crossed Kay's path a few years before. The relationship haunts Lucy and those who are close to her in several books. Lucy becomes a self-made millionaire by the age of 25 by building and selling internet search engines—years before Google. She invests some of her earnings in her own private investigating firm, The Last Precinct, located in NYC, and later in a forensic training center, The National Forensic Academy, in Hollywood, Florida, which employs her Aunt Kay and Pete Marino. She has a penchant for buying expensive machines like helicopters, Ferraris, and motorcycles. She also purchases a private jet, for which she earns a private pilot license.
In Predator, Lucy is diagnosed with a benign brain tumor that alters her physical appearance and seems also to modify her personality. In The Book of the Dead she is undergoing treatment; in later books the disease is not mentioned. In 2007's The Book of the Dead she almost kills Pete Marino when she discovers he has attacked and almost raped her Aunt Kay. In the latest two novels, Scarpetta and The Scarpetta Factor, Lucy is back in New York running her own company again and is in a relationship with the New York DA Jaime Berger.
In Blow Fly, Lucy helps murder Rocco Caggiano, Pete Marino's renegade son, in a Polish hotel.
According to the timeline presented below, Lucy's chronological age does not correspond with the time between the publication of each book. (Other characters' ages are similarly mixed up; e.g., Kay Scarpetta is supposed to be around 40 at the beginning of the series, meaning she is 30 years older than Lucy. However, by the time of the novel Blow Fly, Lucy is almost 30, while Scarpetta is still 46 rather than a more realistic 60.
|All That Remains||1992||16|
|Cruel & Unusual||1993||17|
|The Body Farm||1994||21|
|From Potter's Field||1995||21|
|Cause of Death||1996||23|
|The Last Precinct||2000||28|
In the earlier books of the series, Pete Marino worked as a homicide detective for the Richmond police department, eventually rising to the rank of Captain. Physically, Pete is big (to the point of corpulence) and balding. His high blood pressure, heavy smoking, and borderline alcoholism trouble Dr. Scarpetta, who worries about his long-term health. Marino is an excellent detective and has worked well for many years with Dr. Scarpetta, eventually joining her at the National Forensic Academy after retiring from the police force in Predator. Marino seems to have problems with women through the whole Scarpetta series, stemming from a prior marriage which resulted in a son who becomes a lawyer for a drug cartel. Throughout the series Marino plays a great part in the upbringing of Lucy, although it seems that he has issues with her sexuality.
Pete Marino grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey.
In Book of the Dead, Marino's not so secret crush on Scarpetta comes to a head. He reacts badly to news of Scarpetta's engagement to Benton Wesley, and after getting drunk and under the influence of a testosterone drug, he attacks Kay and almost rapes her. His actions lead to a confrontation with Lucy and her almost shooting him, after which Marino disappears. It is unknown if he has killed himself or just runs away as the book ends. Marino reappears in Scarpetta.
Benton is an FBI profiler. He and Scarpetta work together on many cases, at first on a strictly professional level. As their relationship progresses, they end up having an affair, which goes on for years. Once Benton is no longer with his wife he wishes to marry Kay, but she resists because she is too independent. In Point of Origin Benton disappears; a body is found at the scene of a fire, badly burned and showing signs of having been tortured extensively. Kay identifies the body as Benton's by the Breitling watch she had given him. In Blow Fly it is later revealed that he is not dead, but had been hiding for years in a witness protection program. In Book of the Dead Kay and Benton become engaged; they are married by the beginning of Scarpetta. In the early books Benton is described as the unit chief of the FBI profilers with a master's degree in psychology, working out of Quantico. In Point of Origin he has supposedly retired from the FBI and is working as a private consultant, though in The Scarpetta Factor it is implied that he was still under the FBI's control and was forced into the witness program, then into a retirement that he still resents. In the books following his return, he is a forensic psychologist on staff at McLean in Massachusetts, then also at Bellevue in NYC, while still consulting for the FBI.
- Postmortem (1990)
- Body of Evidence (1991)
- All That Remains (1992)
- Cruel and Unusual (1993)
- The Body Farm (1994)
- From Potter's Field (1995)
- Cause of Death (1996)
- Unnatural Exposure (1997)
- Point of Origin (1998)
- Black Notice (1999)
- The Last Precinct (2000)
- Blow Fly (2003)
- Trace (2004)
- Predator (2005)
- Book of the Dead (2007)
- Scarpetta (2008)
- The Scarpetta Factor (2009)
- Port Mortuary (2010)
- Red Mist (2011)
- The Bone Bed (2012)
- Dust (2013)