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‘I lived in a state of terror’: Patricia Cornwell on childhood trauma, her new novel and the search for Bigfoot

As pathologist Kay Scarpetta makes her 28th appearance in print, her creator recalls what it’s really like to conduct a postmortem – and a very odd encounter in the Virginia woods

A mysterious footprint is found at the crime scene. Nothing unusual about that. Except this print may or may not have been left by … Bigfoot. Patricia Cornwell’s latest novel Unnatural Death features all sorts of serious stuff about artificial intelligence, military technology and the influence of Russia on US affairs – as well as the welcome return of her heroine, the forensic pathologist Dr Kay Scarpetta – but it’s the sasquatch subplot I keep coming back to. It’s bonkers – at one point, we’re not sure if the creature is helping the investigators – but entertaining. “We are fast approaching an age where it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not and I try to play with those things in Unnatural Death,” says Cornwell. Even over a video call from her home in Boston, her eyes shine a brilliant blue. Funny and energetic, she is great company.

Cornwell is interested in science and technology, which she pours into her books – in this one, it includes devices that are “downright spooky. You can turn the sky overhead into a speaker … so it sounds like a tornado is coming in, but there’s nothing there.” Another new bit of military tech – though to describe it would be a spoiler – is something the Russian government is developing, which Cornwell read about (she always does a lot of research). In her books, she says, where technological developments are concerned: “Everything I tell you about is real.”

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