So another cold and rainy Sunday afternoon has given me the perfect opportunity to finish this interesting and highly readable book about A History of Forensic Science.
Nigel McCrery created Silent Witness, which aired on the BBC featuring a team of forensic pathologists, as well as the more light-hearted New Tricks, this time about retired policemen solving cold crimes (this series was a must-watch in my household!) The author started his working life as a police officer in Nottinghamshire and towards the end of this book he uses one of the cases he worked on to show how DNA profiling can be successful many years after a murder.
In his introduction the author launches straight in with details of a murder of a young girl with illustrations of how forensics can rule someone out as a suspect, as well as pointing justice in the direction of a perpetrator.
This book goes right back to the early forensics. It must be remembered that identifying someone from their corpse is probably not the easiest task! ‘Always remember you are absolutely unique, just like everyone else.’ Margaret Mead US anthropologist (1901-1978) Although arranged in order of chronological developments in real life some of the techniques overlap before the scientists come to an agreement of the best method.
Each chapter of the book not only details the advances in forensic science but also gives examples of how these discoveries were used in evidence in court. There is much to digest in this book but it is all presented in such a way that you don’t need any specialist knowledge to understand. I even kept track during the chapter on ballistics and for the first time understood how bullets can be tracked back to a particular gun.
Personally, my favourite chapter was on poisons ‘after all, they were an extremely convenient way of ridding yourself of an enemy whilst avoiding detection.’ Often used by women it took scientists much trial and error before they came up with conclusive proof that could be laid before a jury. The chapter on poisons also features quite recent crimes including the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
A must read for anyone who would like an accessible insight into the work of forensic scientists through the ages.