Any crime writer should know that understanding the basics of breaking down a crime scene, and subsequent investigations sets up a more realistic story-line for the reader to follow along, and become immersed in the complex trail of solving a murder or other crime.
The Encyclopaedia of Forensic Science by Brian Lane provides a comprehensive guide to the science behind crime investigation.
Brian Lane knows his stuff. From writing books like the Encyclopaedia of Women Killers, Serial killers and Mass Murder, and the Murder Yearbook and The Butchers.
Forensic Science perhaps became more popular due to shows like CSI, yet these shows tend to glamourize the in-depth process of what it really takes to unearth clues by breaking down the evidence one piece at a time (and not in heels with long hair contaminating the crime scene).
Let’s explore how this book can provide a useful guide for your next mystery, thriller or crime novel.
The A-Z of forensic science covers Anthropology, Ballistics, Cause of death, Chromosome abnormality, Dental identification, DNA profiling, Exhumation, Facial reconstruction, Firearms, Gunshot wounds, Hair, Insect infestation of corpses, Knife wounds, Microscopy, Pathologists, Psychological profiling, Radiocarbon dating, Semen, Time of death, and Voice analysers.
This book covers means of death and the ways killers were caught. A range of case studies provides in-depth analysis on how forensic science was used, even as far back as the 1800s to catch killers.
Dr Henry George Lamson studied medicine in Paris in the 1800s. Earning distinction in the Franco-Prussian War, he eventually developed an addiction to morphine, leading him to take more risks and becoming more reckless when his medical practices failed. Desperate to inherit his wife’s mother’s estate, he resorted to the oldest trick in the book – murder anyone that could inherit. Resulting in Lamson to poison his wife’s family with aconitine and quinine sulphate powder.
Aconite – a common garden plant known as ‘wolfsbane’, ‘leopard’s bane’, ‘devil’s helmet’, ‘blue rocket’, or ‘women’s bane’.The Encyclopaedia of Forensic Science.
This resulted in the death of his wife’s brother. Fortunately, a toxicologist was brought in and discovered grey patches on the stomach that would suggest the presence of this vegetable alkaloid poison. Eventually this led the police to Lamson who was found guilty and hang.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of forensic science (although this took a long time to be taken seriously) was the use of psychological profiling. Even to this day, some law enforcement agencies still do not take this seriously; however, the FBI certainly relies on this method to build a profile of the potential suspect, and in many cases this profile whittled down the suspect list to eventually find the killer.
We see in movies like ‘Silence of the Lamb’ and TV shows like ‘Criminal Minds’ how vital understanding the psyche of the criminal mind is. And for any psychological thriller, being able to delve inside the mind of a killer is imperative.
An American psychiatrist James Brussel pioneered this advanced method, and now the FBI has their own specialized Behavioural Science Unit. Specializing in particular on cases of serial murder, they delve into the motive, and picking up small observations of the crime scene to paint a picture of the kind of person that would commit this crime.
Although this practice is not new, Dr Brussel certainly revolutionized the practice, accurately describing who the ‘Boston Strangler’ would be, leading to the arrest of Albert de Salvo.
Whether you are a crime buff that just loves learning about true crime, or whether you are an author looking for helpful reference books to aid in your writing, the encyclopaedia of forensic science will enlighten you just how much work goes into investigating a crime, and the subsequent ways of proving they have the right suspect.