Author companions are often considered essential reading by die-hard fans, providing a unique insight into the author's private life and literary world.
And, for readers who are also writers, companions promise a peak under the curtain by revealing the inspiration and inner workings of the author's craft.
That's what I gained many years ago when I read 'The Stephen King Companion' by George Beahm. And that's what I expected to read with his latest unauthorized tome on the life and times of Patricia Cornwell, bestselling author of 11 medical thrillers featuring forensic pathologist Dr Kay Scarpetta.
Sadly, 'The Unofficial Patricia Cornwell Companion' is not up to Beahm's previous work.
On the surface, it has all of the ingredients for a successful companion book ~ biographical information, author interviews and an examination of her works ~ but it is missing a few less tangible but equally vital elements ~ passion, enthusiasm and depth.
Beahm has gathered information from a variety of sources, including Cornwell's own web site as well as third party interviews and articles. But there doesn't appear to be a lot of original work beyond the guide to her books (including plot synopses, research and critical reviews) and a glossary of forensic terminology which command the lion's share of the book.
The most sought-after component of the companion is missing ~ an original interview with the reclusive author.
Beahm explains in the introduction:
"Unlike (Stephen) King and (Anne) Rice, who have been covered exhaustively in the media at large and in books studying their work, Cornwell has kept a low profile: no book-length works had been published about her or her work, and because she zealously guards her time and personal access, especially with the media, only a handful of profile pieces had been published to date, few of them flattering."
He concedes later:
"Much of what is in this book is common knowledge, collected for the first time under one set of covers. Drawing from public sources, this book strikes a balance between what her readers would like to know and the privacy to which Cornwell is entitled."
Given that this is the first Patricia Cornwell biography, it does, of course, shed some light on the writer's life ~ whetting the appetite for an authorised version hopefully some time soon.
For fellow writers wishing to gain an insight into her literary life, the companion offers a handful of quotable quotes from the scribe:
Cornwell on literary production:
"The best I did was write 200 pages in 10 days. Next morning I woke up, my left hand was paralyzed for four months. Radial-nerve damage. But I wasn't unbalanced. I was just manic like an artist gets manic."
Cornwell on characters:
"It's important to me to live in the world I write about. If I want a character to do or know something, I try to do or know the same thing."
Cornwell on inspiration:
"I think the most important thing is that you have to believe in what you're doing. It can't just be cranking out another book ~ it's your mission."
Cornwell on writing:
"I don't do it as a job. I don't write an outline or plot everything out. My office looks like a bomb hit it, totally unstructured. I do all the research first, and none of the writing, then I sit in front of what I've gathered and go to work. I take notes all the time, can't turn off, use spare moments to jot things down. Then I go into seclusion; I go under, and I write a book."
And a passing shot at critics:
"When you've had really big success, critics are just looking for a chance to blast you out of the water. I think my characters are colourful, and I think my fans agree. They wouldn't keep buying my books if they didn't."
The Bottom Line
'The Unofficial Patricia Cornwell Companion' goes some way to documenting the literary life of Patricia Cornwell. But for those fans who want more than a skin-deep examination of the author's world, you'll have to wait for a companion to this book.
-- Michael Meanwell, author of the critically-acclaimed 'The Enterprising Writer' and 'Writers on Writing'. For more book reviews and prescriptive articles for writers, visit [...]