Patricia Cornwell's iconic crime-fighting character Kay Scarpetta is a step closer to making her big screen debut after the author signed a new publishing deal.

The American crime writer has spent several years working on a movie version of her bestselling books, with Angelina Jolie tapped to play the series' medical examiner protagonist.

The plans were put on hold while Cornwell worked out a new deal with a publishing house, and it has now been announced she will move to HarperCollins after several years at rival Penguin.

The $10 million (£6.6 million), two-book deal will coincide with production on the the first Scarpetta film via movie studio Fox 2000, a sister company of HarperCollins.

Elizabeth Gabler, president of Fox 2000, says, "(It is) one of our (the studio's) greatest priorities is to begin production on the film as soon as possible."

Jolie put herself forward for the lead role in 2009 and has remained keen to play the steely doctor onscreen, saying in 2011, "If all the other pieces... fit together to make sure everyone’s happy with it... it's looking hopeful."

The film's release is slated for 2015.