Thursday, 23 July 2015

Book Review -Forensics - The Anatomy of Crime (Val McDermid)

Forensics - An Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid is a masterpiece. I cannot remember ever reading a non-fiction book in a week. This was so compelling I'd be reading it at odd moments and take it to bed with me.  The reason why I'm reviewing on this blog and not my other one (where most book reviews appear), is because I feel that those who are interested in crime writing (reading it or writing it) really need to read this.

McDermid covers everything in twelve chapters:

The Crime Scene
Fire Scene Investigation
Entomology
Pathology
Toxicology
Fingerprinting
Blood Splatter and DNA
Anthropology
Facial Reconstruction
Digital Forensics
Forensic Psychology
The Courtroom

The history of forensics is set out for each branch of the science and then followed through showing how it progressed into what it is today. Absolutely fascinating. Real crimes are used to show how forensics helped convict people (or not in the case of Jack the Ripper), including ones I know about like Rachel Nickell (the mother killed on Wimbledon Common), Stephen Lawrence and the case which convicted Colin Pitchfork for murder on the basis of DNA evidence - the first person to be convicted using this method. This latter case was the subject of a TV drama not so long ago - Alec Jeffreys being the man to discover the unique variations in DNA. I remember this case also, due the fact that Police asked every male person in the area to come forward and offer their DNA. Pitchfork asked someone else to do the test for him. But they got him in the end.

I have always been interested in forensics for some reason, which is why I also love Elly Griffiths (fiction) books as she writes about a woman who is a bone expert in the archaeological world and she gets called in to look at bones for the Police.

Certainly if you want to know how forensics works, this book is a damn good place to start. I might actually have to buy myself a copy (this is a library copy). I was reading an article the other day that said crime writers are having difficulty spinning out their stories now that forensics can get results so fast. They are having to think of new ways to approach it.

I was actually sad to finish this book as I was riveted. For someone like me who is hopeless at science, I worried that all the details would go way over my head. Be sure, it is written for the layperson. You will not have any problem understanding it. While the cases discussed are hard to read at times and the methods used in the early days (smashing poor rabbits heads with a hammer to observe blood splatter), I put my emotions aside and admired what these guys and gals do to get to the truth.

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