Patricia Cornwell, the "queen of crime fiction", is facing a real-life legal drama to rival anything she has written in her novels. The author will be a witness at a trial in the US in which she is seeking $180m (£112m) in damages against her former business managers.
Cornwell claims the company managing her wealth mis-handled it so badly she has been left millions of dollars poorer. She also says their misconduct prompted an FBI criminal investigation into illegal donations to US politicians allegedly by the writer.
The managers, the US wealth management firm Anchin Block and Anchin, who also handle Hollywood stars such as Robert De Niro, deny her claims. Last year, Evan Snapper a former Anchin employee appointed as Cornwell's business manager, pleaded guilty to falsifying 21 campaign donations, claiming he did so as an "ill-advised favour to Patricia Cornwell". The firm claims that on discovering his misconduct they carried out their own investigation, then reported the results to the US authorities.
Cornwell told The Independent on Sunday that the US Justice Department has cleared her of any wrongdoing but she admitted the investigation could have jeopardised her work by preventing her from accessing places such as prisons, FBI offices and mortuaries to do research for her stories.
She claims in an interview today that she believes the timing of Anchin's self-reporting of the incidents to the Department of Justice was deliberate, coming weeks after she filed her lawsuit against the firm.
"They were saying [Anchin and Snapper] that I orchestrated [the donations]. That's a lie. They are saying that nice little Patricia Cornwell is really the queen of criminals."
Cornwell claims that, unlike Kay Scarpetta, the forensic pathologist heroine of her novels, she is not good at managing her own finances. "She [Kay] would have figured this guy out in one second. I am a dolt when it comes to business," she said.
After employing Anchin to look after her wealth, she said: "I felt I had made the smartest business decision of my life." Five years later, her suspicions about mismanagement caused her to end the relationship. Her suspicions were confirmed when she discovered a cancelled $5,000 cheque, made out to cash, that Snapper directed to be paid to himself from her funds, purportedly as a Bat Mitzvah gift.
Cornwell says she did not authorise the present. "Hiring Anchin [would turn out to be] the most dangerous thing I could have done in terms of my business, my finances and my reputation," she says.