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Mostly Murder (Panther Books) Paperback – 23 Aug 1984

5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Grafton; New edition edition (23 Aug. 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0586060545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0586060544
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 11.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,001,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
My friend Tim Wass recommended this book to me as his all time favourite and I can fully understand why. I have spent the last 48 hours fully immersed in this amazing and wonderful book. Based around the 1920's onwards it is an interesting look at forensics of that time and the cases where Sir Sydney has been called in to help find the true circumstances of crimes and disappearances. Intersperced are quick sections about his life and experiences written in a wonderfully warm way. The initial first two chapters see him finding his feet as a writer but once in full swing his accounts are so absorbing and interesting that you cannot fail to be intrigued by not only the facts and proceedures to find the details but also the characters involved - especially Bernard Spilsbury.
Putting aside a few moments to quickly scan the book just to say I had looked at it I have ended up reading the whole thing and desperate to have a copy of my own to pause over in the future.
Comment 13 of 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sir Sydney Smith was a pioneer in the field of forensic medicine. Born in New Zealand, Smith practiced in Egypt before moving to Edinburgh University. This book covers his entire career. It includes Sydney Smith's pioneering work in the early days of ballistics (the study of the actions and reactions of fire-arms and projectiles)as well as the various times he "locked horns" with the great Sir Bernard Spillsbury in court. This book is an easy-to-read insight into the early days of forensics, providing a supprisingly well explained look at the high profile cases investigated by Sir Sydney Smith and how the evidence collected was processed. If you regularly watch CSI Las Vegas, Silent Witness or other forensics based series or have a general interest in murder mysteries then this book is definitely well worth a read!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9eaf37bc) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d7d6d8c) out of 5 stars Memoirs of a professor of forensic medicine 1 Sept. 2003
By ealovitt - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Mostly Murder" by Sir Sydney Smith, late Professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of Edinburgh is another great true-crime autobiography from the first half of the twentieth century, very similar in its witty, epigrammatic style to British Home Office Pathologist, Professor Keith Simpson's "Forty Years of Murder." Both books are fascinating memoirs of 'mostly murders,' famous and obscure, although not always committed in Great Britain--Sir Sidney went to Egypt during the First World War and stayed on as the Principal Medico-Legal Expert to the Ministry of Justice until he returned to Edinburgh in 1928. He also relates cases from Ceylon, Australia (the Sydney Shark affair), and other far-flung ports of the British Empire.
The author most especially seemed to relish his medico-legal battles with the famous Home Office Pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury. In one of his most interesting trials, Sir Sydney testified on behalf of Sidney Fox, a convicted forger, blackmailer, swindler, and thief who was also accused of murdering his own mother for the insurance money--she died less than an hour before her accidental death policy was due to expire.
Dear old mom was a confederate in most of her son's crimes, but Fox emphatically denied strangling her and setting her hotel room on fire, and Sir Sydney believed him. At least he believed that the con man's mother showed no physical evidence of strangulation. He and the great Spilsbury locked horns over the forensic evidence in court and Sir Sidney's client was condemned to the gallows, but was it for the wrong reason?
The fact that Fox renewed his mother's accidental death policy the day before she died was the evidence that hung him, but was he really guilty of murdering her? Sir Sidney thinks not.
Mordant wit abounds in this book, most especially in the chapter, "Accident, Suicide, or Murder?" Sir Sidney relates the suicide by coal-gas of a plumber from Aberdeen who "connected a tube to the gas-pipe before it entered the meter, and so all the way to the room where his body was found."
We've all heard stories about thrifty Scots, but Aberdonians seem to be a legend even amongst their own countrymen.
"Mostly Murder" contains several gruesome photographs from the author's forensic files, but nothing we haven't already seen on television.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e3bb3cc) out of 5 stars Trust the British with their dry sense of humor... 4 Mar. 2003
By K. L Sadler - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Murder is not funny. Yet this obviously major first book on early forensic science turned out to be a 'snort of laughter' funny book. It's a very wryly written and very wise autobiography, with no backstabbing or self-congratulatory remarks. If anything, Smith was way too modest, in dealing with the many parts of forensic science (which are now dealt with by different departments in police, FBI, etc). He managed to deal with ballistic forensics, stringing a couple of microscopes together while in Eqypt in order to compare bullets and casings. This was way prior to the invention of comparison microscopes that are regularly used even in med school.
The stories he tells are usually not well-known, but he had a good reason for sharing the story because it showed a particular means of solving a crime (or not solving it) using what they had available in forensics during the early 1900's. Smith imagination and ability to 'make do' are something that is badly missed in most sciences today. He certainly lived a very productive and valuable life, and obviously his inventions and unique ideas have been built upon in forensic science. I think he would not be surprised, but would have enjoyed the other newer fields in forensics such as entymology.
This is an older book, found at my university library. Quite frankly, it would be worthwhile to publish again and recommend to the many people who are showing such an interest in forensics due to shows such as CSI. Many of the concepts Smith teaches are still valuable today. If readers cannot buy this book, try to find it at a university libary. It is extremely well-written and enjoyable.
Karen Sadler,
Science Education,
University of Pittsburgh
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ed56d50) out of 5 stars A Pioneer in Forensic Medicine 31 Aug. 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book tells of the many interesting cases in his career. If you liked "Quincy ME" or "CSI" you'll love reading true stories about his pioneering work in the first half of the 20th century. He is an outstanding writer as well. This book shows how legal medicine can convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. Most of these cases deal with murder, and tell how the doctor let the dead bones speak to the living.
Erle Stanley Gardner says a successful practitioner of forensic medicine must not only be outstanding in his field, but most be quick-thinking and keen of mind: a real version of Sherlock Holmes. A good medical expert should search for the truth, not the facts to support a pre-conceived theory; this usually results in a miscarriage of justice; chapter 20 illustrates this.
Page 90 tells of his analysis of the British .303 cartridge. The bullet had an "aluminium tip enclosed in a strong cupro-nickel jacket". This tip often broke off when the bullet entered a body. This could result in a blunt-edged bullet that could tumble in a body and create more damage; in effect, a dum-dum bullet.
On page 152 he says that in the British legal system, expert witnesses are made available to the defendants, and paid when the defendant is without means. This is an improvement over just providing a public defender. "While the life of a scoundrel may not be worth saving, the principles of justice always are."
Sir Sydney Smith writes with a dry, subtle sense of humor, and with understatements. This book cannot be easily summarized, except to say: get it and read it!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dc6f8ac) out of 5 stars Mostly Fascinating.... 3 July 2000
By Dr. Stephen R. Macfarlane - Published on
Format: Paperback
Mostly Murder is the autobiography of Sir Sydney Smith, the doyen of forensic pathology in Edinburgh in the early decades of the twentieth century. The book briefly covers his early life and medical training (some of it under Bell, best known as the inspiration for Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes) before commencing a comprehensive review of his professional life. Forensic medicine was in its infancy in the 1920's and 30's, and Smith was one of its pioneers. He was involved in investigating many of the high-profile cases of his time, and these are discussed in depth, understanding for the layman being aided by the use of illustrations throughout. Written in a humble and accessible style, the book serves not only as a fascinating insight into a remarkable man, but also as a useful introduction to the basic techniques of forensic science. The author's life and work is placed firmly within its contemporary context, commenting in detail, for example, on his sometimes fractious relationships with other emerging pioneers such as Sir Bernard Spilsbury. Surely a book that desrves a wider audience, though unfortunately now out of print.
HASH(0x9d73d594) out of 5 stars Stories about Forensic Medicine 9 Mar. 2012
By Acute Observer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Mostly Murder, Sir Sidney Smith

Sir Sidney Smith was one of the most brilliant and famous professors of forensic medicine in the first half of the 20th century. The British police relied on his help to solve baffling and bizarre crimes. Smith was a real life "Sherlock Holmes" who solved real crimes by real murderers. This 1959 book was a best seller. Most of these cases were reported in professional journals earlier. This 1973 book is a reissue of the original with a Foreword by Professor Keith Simpson. Smith was compared to Dr. Joseph Bell, the inspiration for "Sherlock Holmes". These chapters contain cases that involved Smith. Some became true crime classics, like the Ruxton case. The background tells about the life and culture of those times.

Smith was born in New Zealand, worked as a pharmacist, then went to the University of Edinburgh (Chapter 1). A successful medical diagnosis requires observation, deduction, and exact knowledge (Chapter 2). Forensic medicine goes back thousands of years (p.38). The bodies of two young boys were found in a water-filled quarry. Chapter 3 tells how this case was solved. Smith was appointed head of the medico-legal section in Cairo in 1917, where the French legal system is followed (Chapter 4). Laboratory evidence was respected because of the fallibility of witnesses (p.56). Poisoning for gain was common (p.65). So was murder (Chapter 5). Polygamy caused domestic turmoil, jealousy, and crime (p.75). The end of the Great War saw riots for independence in Egypt (Chapter 6). British .303 cartridges have a bullet tip that broke off when it hit a body (p.90). No other military used this. The 1924 assassination of the Commander of the Egyptian Army was solved by ballistic evidence that linked the bullets to a pistol (Chapter 7).

Chapter 8 tells how Bedouin trackers helped to solve a murder in the desert sands. An empty rifle cartridge identified the killer. Other cases are described. Smith published his "Forensic Medicine and Technology" in 1925 (Chapter 9). The British legal system pays for a defendant's expert witnesses (Chapter 10). Can a person be strangled when there are no physical signs (p.164)? Arsenic is the most commonly used poison (Chapter 11). The Marsh test showed the presence of arsenic since 1836. Chapter 12 tells about the unusual strangling of a young woman. Abortion was a criminal act (Chapter 13). But not if the child died in the uterus. The legal procedure in Jersey is a relic of Norman French (p.201). A young girl went missing and was found murdered (Chapter 14). Medical and scientific evidence solved the crime. A murder was revealed when a captured shark vomited a human arm (Chapter 15). A tattoo led to an identification by fingerprints. Parts of two bodies were found and linked to two missing people (Chapter 16). Evidence in the house for dismemberment, conviction on circumstantial evidence.

A doctor should not report comments from an examination (Chapter 17). A physical presence leaves traces (p.240). A person's walking leaves traces on their shoes (p.248). The question of murder, suicide, or accident is common in real life (Chapter 18). Smith lists many examples. A bullet in the head may not cause immediate unconsciousness (p.263). Could telling the truth be more dangerous for an innocent man (p.267)? Chapter 19 explains the unusual effects of bullet wounds and other cases. Time of death can be fixed by body temperature, the extent of rigor mortis, and the state of the food consumed (Chapter 20). [The last time seen alive?] The last chapter tells of arsenic poisoning in Auckland. A woman became sick and died. Who did it? Her husband had no motive but was charged with murder. Smith testified for the defense; not guilty. The first half of the 20th century produced the greatest advances in human knowledge compared to the rest of recorded history (p.306). The total of all forms of indictable offenses has skyrocketed (p.307). The people most in need of defense are the least able to pay for it. The publicity given to murders is out of proportion to its social significance (p.308). He says murderers are mostly "ordinary individuals".
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