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Along the way McDermid discovers how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine one's time of death; how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer; and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist were able to uncover the victims of a genocide. It's a journey that will take McDermid to war zones, fire scenes, and autopsy suites and bring her into contact with both extraordinary bravery and wickedness as she traces the history of forensics from its earliest beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.
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By Mark on 09-02-16
This book is a lot of fun. Easy to listen to, brilliantly narrated by a Scotswoman who can switch effortlessly and instantly between multiple other accents. As other reviewers have said, a lot of the material is stuff that you’ll have encountered in other books and on TV, but this book puts it nicely into a neatly packaged overview of all the different aspects of forensics, illuminated with lots of great crime stories which show how forensics contributed to solving the crime.
The first eleven chapters look at the different aspects and branches of forensics; In each case there was some stuff I knew and some other material that was new for me. For example, in ‘the Crime Scene’ I learnt that there usually isn’t just one, but several crime scenes. There’s the scene of the murder, the suspect’s vehicle, the suspect’s house etc.
In ‘Fingerprinting’ I learned that a fingerprint isn’t proof of guilt, it’s a subjective piece of evidence where you’re comparing the print with the print of a suspect and looking for similarities. The context is critical and many injustices have been perpetrated when juries have been convinced that a fingerprint is a guarantee of the suspect’s guilt.
And in ‘Forensic Psychology’ it was interesting to learn how a science that once had great credibility and kudos (psychological profiling predicts the characteristics of a perpetrator based on the evidence found at the crime scene) had a massive fall from grace after it misled a police force who hounded a suspect because he matched the profile, when the real perpetrator was overlooked despite fairly clear-cut physical evidence (a shoe-print). Psychological profiling is still part of the armoury of the investigating team, but is now used with much more caution.
The final chapter deals with the courtroom, where we are disappointed to see how all the painstaking work of dedicated scientists is subjected to the adversarial legal system, where two sides, the defence and the prosecution, are hell-bent on either clearing or convicting their client and aren’t interested in establishing the truth, only in winning the case. They will often go to great lengths to discredit and humiliate expert witnesses in pursuit of this goal.
It’s a good book – a proper ‘page-turner’. One of those where you really want to carry on listening but you have to stop to get on with some aspect of daily life.
70 of 75 people found this review helpful
By Neuron on 08-22-16
Forensics in real life
CSI fans may or may not know that their favorite TV series is not always completely in sync with reality. If you enjoy CSI, but also know that you cannot sequence DNA in five seconds and if you would like to separate fact and fiction then this book is for you.
This 12 chapter book goes through different subfields of forensic science in real life (IRL). It begins at the crime scene. How is evidence gathered? What might destroy evidence? How do you prevent contamination of the scene? The book moves systematically through other fields of forensic science. Every chapter is brought to life by descriptions of actual crimes and the forensic work that ensued. To take a few examples, we are told the story about the infamous arsonist John Or. Or was a firefighter who started more than 2000 fires and then wrote a book about his deed, which despite being published as fiction contained enough details about his deeds and methods to result in his capture. We also meet Harold Shipman, who by poisoning more than 200 of his patients has gotten into the history books as one of the most prolific serial killers in history.
In subsequent chapters the author goes through, entomology (how organisms at the crime scene can provide evidence), pathology (examination of tissue), DNA, fingerprinting, toxicology, blood spatter, digital forensics etc. For each of these, we learn how forensics gather and analyze evidence, and each method is illustrated through actual crimes.
Given how many hours people (myself included) spend watching crime on TV, the material in this book is useful knowledge for anyone who wishes to be that person who points out factual errors when watching a movie with friends or family... Or perhaps you just want to know what happens backstage in a crime investigation. Either way, this book, though it wasn't an addictive page-turner, is a good choice for you.
44 of 47 people found this review helpful