As a reporter, Cornwell said she often chased after what she called the "unusual twist" at time before DNA evidence was developed. When she researched Jack the Ripper for her 2002 nonfiction book, "Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed," Cornwell began gathering and testing British, Victorian-era weapons and police artifacts. Her massive collection now includes long swords, guns of all sizes, handcuffs, whistles, clubs and daggers.
Her research led Cornwell to the theory that Jack the Ripper was Walter Sickert, a British painter, and his weapon of choice to slash through his victims would have been "a very simple sort of dagger." Critics strongly denied her findings.
That curiosity also spawned Cornwell's collection of rare books, including the first book written about the microscope dating back to 1664. She has donated some of her collection to the University of Tennessee.
However, Cornwell's true infatuation lies with writing, and the only thing that seems to scare this crime novelist is the fear of losing that passion.
"I want my next book to be better than the last," she said. "My biggest fear is to lose my passion. The passion for what I do, because then I feel like life would have no color."