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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid

After I read Blood on the Table, I was still in the forensic mood and happily had Forensics waiting patiently on my Kindle.

Here's the description from Goodreads:
Val McDermid is one of the finest crime writers we have, whose novels have captivated millions of readers worldwide with their riveting narratives of characters who solve complex crimes and confront unimaginable evil. In the course of researching her bestselling novels McDermid has become familiar with every branch of forensics, and now she uncovers the history of this science, real-world murders and the people who must solve them.

The dead talk—to the right listener. They can tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died, and, of course, who killed them. Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help serve justice using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene, or the faintest of human traces. Forensics draws on interviews with some of these top-level professionals, ground-breaking research, and McDermid’s own original interviews and firsthand experience on scene with top forensic scientists.

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.

Forensics is broken down by subject- so one chapter will be on fingerprints, one on DNA, one on fires, etc. Inside each chapter McDermid covers the history of that type of science in a mostly chronological order. She includes a couple examples of cases in the explanation, so it's a good mix of historic and modern case histories. The detail rarely veers into the obscene and gory, while still managing to fully explain each topic. Many of the details were completely fascinating and it reminded me much of Death's Acre, which I read too long ago to have reviewed on the blog.

I have never read any of McDermid's fiction, but this certainly makes me want to take a look at her writing. I mostly get my forensics fix from the J.D. Robb In Death books, which is a bit skewed from being set in the future. I am slightly curious in dipping my toe into the tv version of this, but who has time? And which show?? (No really, I don't have time for tv.) If I had any complaint about the book, it's that I felt like at time she went on a bit too long theorizing or explaining, with too few real life examples. I prefer the technical details to the theory, and the last chapter was heavy on the talk. Overall, a good, but not great, read that took me much longer than I anticipated while still introducing me to an author I'd like to try out in fiction.


  1. I get all my forensics from fiction too. Getting some true forensic facts sounds interesting but I can see where the theory would be tough to read.

  2. Val McDermid is one of my favorite authors. I love her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series and have also read a couple of her standalone books. If you ever heard of the British crime series Wire In The Blood, it's based on the Hill/Jordan pairing. It's pretty grim - but I don't mind that. I think the fact that this author wrote a book about forensics would probably give you a clue as to the type of books she writes. I think I'm going to listen to this on on audio at some point.

  3. I'm only skimming your review because I am reading this on my kindle right now - I am thinking my husband would really enjoy it because for the first ten years we were married he was a licensed funeral director.

  4. I had this in my hands at B&N today! It sounds pretty appealing to me, but I may end up listening.


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