Patricia Cornwell talks new novel "Dust," how crime has changed in her books

(CBS News) Patricia Cornwell is out with her 21st novel in her Kay Scarpetta series called "Dust." The best-selling author's book is the latest pick for "CBS This Morning Reads."

The story picks up after Scarpetta has returned from assisting in the wake of the real-life tragedy in Newtown, Conn. Cornwell said she wanted to show what that kind of incident would do to her character.

"The book starts with her having just come home from assisting in Newtown with the terrible deaths of children, and we see -- I said, 'Lets take look at what this does to you. Because you're a really strong tenacious woman, but you're human.' Then, of course, while she's just on the heels of that, she gets a phone call about a very bizarre death at (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). It's a body out in the athletic field, and this launches her into a really horrific series of murders that are actually connected to things that are happening in Washington," Cornwell said.

For more authors and more with Cornwell, go to CBS This Morning Reads.

The title "Dust" refers to trace evidence on the body initially found in the novel.

"When Scarpetta looks at the first body and she turns on an ultraviolet light source, there's this fluorescence, there's this electric, glittering of some dust residue that's all over this person," Cornwell said. "It turns out it's on other victims as well and it's a mineral fingerprint. And she has to figure out, 'this tells me something about where these people have been and who the killer is.' So the dust is important, but it's also, in a much deeper way, it's 'dust to dust.' She's about life and death and there's a lot of philosophical elements that relate to it also."

Since Cornwell began writing, she said the crime she's written about has changed. "What we deal with in 'Dust' is what (Scarpetta's) FBI profiler husband calls 'spectacle killings'," Cornwell said. "People go out and do things to draw attention to themselves. I was told a long time ago when I worked in the medical examiner's office, once the gate is open, you can't really shut it. And they were talking about this with Columbine, and we have seen now the more it happens, the more it happens, and I do feel that there's an element of people who, you know, want to do this for attention. And I think we're now more frightened of going to a shopping mall when someone shows up with a rifle as opposed to someone climbing through our window."

For more with Cornwell -- including talk about who could play Scarpetta in a movie adaptation -- watch her full interview above.

  • Amanda Cochran

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