Val McDermid, “Forensics”

forensicsEvery crime scene tells a story.

Don’t it?

Answer: yes.

In fact, in so many ways.

In this beautifully written book, Val McDermid shows us the latest science and how far it has evolved in reading the story of what happened and beginning the process of tracking down the who done it? or who is this? 

Crime writers? If you want to keep it as real as possible (from everything I know, as a pure amateur), this is a must read.

Readers of crime fiction? Loyal consumers of the CSI television franchise? Consumers of detective movies and detective shows on television? For all of you, this is your chance to be the knowledgeable insider, the couch potato know-it-all who can either vouch for the plot or scoff in polite disbelief.

Forensics—What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA, and More Tell Us About Crime—is thoroughly entertaining (if you’re not too squeamish). Scottish crime writer Val McDermid is a storyteller and her talents are in full force here. She illustrates each of the chapters with the details from a vivid crime that highlights the investigative technique about to be, well, dissected. One of the fun sub-themes here is how each new advancement was first introduced and then how wriggled its way into the legal process as accepted method for bolstering (or refuting) a theory.

Most of the book is smooth, matter-of-fact exposition of crime scene analysis–fire scene investigation, entomology, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, and so on–including a detailed walk-through of how a typical autopsy proceeds. A final chapter, “The Courtroom,” briefly looks at alternative ideas for how all the evidence might be better processed by the legal system. Rest assured, McDermid is hardly strapping on the pom-poms to lead to lead the cheering section over the quick advance of technology and scientific analysis. She interweaves cautionary tales about the limits of the data and the fact that it’s human beings who are responsible for interpreting every precious scrap.

However, in other cases, the science is nothing short of mind-blowing, particularly (to me) in the area of blood splatter analysis and facial reconstruction. McDermid goes back in time to show the first uses of each technique then brings it forward to demonstrate the current applications.  Some cases are famous (Jack the Ripper, O.J. Simpson) and some obscure.  The body count, especially given that she discusses the use of forensic anthropology in looking at cases of genocide, is high.

You’ll not finish with an upbeat view of humanity. Murderers, in case you did not know, will try anything. But you will be impressed with the creativity of scientists and what’s possible with the smallest bits of human traces and tracks. Seriously, your ghost might not help you get away with anything you’re planning.

Final note, I “read” this on audio and was treated to the cool, enticing British accent of Sarah Barron. A great way to go.

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One response to “Val McDermid, “Forensics”

  1. Pingback: 2016: Top Books | Don't Need A Diagram

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