Crime novelist and former police officer Nigel McCrery provides an account of all the major areas of forensic science from around the world over the past two centuries. The book weaves dramatic narrative and scientific principles together in a way that allows readers to figure out crimes along with the experts. Readers are introduced to such fascinating figures as Dr. Edmond Locard, the "French Sherlock Holmes"; Edward Heinrich, "Wizard of Berkeley," who is credited with having solved more than 2,000 crimes; and Alphonse Bertillon, the French scientist whose guiding principle, "no two individuals share the same characteristics," became the core of criminal identification. Landmark crime investigations examined in depth include a notorious murder involving blood evidence and defended by F. Lee Bailey, the seminal 1936 murder that demonstrated the usefulness of the microscope in examining trace evidence, the 1849 murder of a wealthy Boston businessman that demonstrated how difficult it is to successfully dispose of a corpse, and many others.
Former police officer turned crime novelist and BBC screenwriter McCrery (Tooth and Claw) delves into the bloody origins of modern forensic science, looking back at key figures and important historical cases to track the origins of major developments in criminology. He examines each major technique in turn, from fingerprinting and anthropometric measurements to blood typing, DNA analysis, ballistics, and trace evidence, placing each development in context with the cases where they were first used successfully and the people responsible for their discoveries and implementation. When McCrery describes the long-ago cases and their key figures, it's in a straightforward, accessible manner. However, when he discusses on the more technical aspects of his subject matter, such as ballistics and the evolution of bullets or the way blood types interact, he tends to get bogged down. For those looking for insight into the early days of forensics, this is a fascinating and informative work, a great entry point. Of special note is the chapter on DNA testing, where the author plays a role in identifying the remains of the Romanovs, the former Russian royal family.