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Silent Witnesses [Kindle Edition]

Nigel McCrery
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A crime scene. A murder. A mystery.

The most important person on the scene? The forensic scientist. And yet the intricate details of their work remains a mystery to most of us.

Silent Witnesses looks at the history of forensic science over the last two centuries, during which time a combination of remarkable intuition, painstaking observation and leaps in scientific knowledge have developed this fascinating branch of detection. Throwing open the casebook, it introduces us to such luminaries as 'The Wizard of Berkeley' Edward Heinrich, who is credited with having solved over 2000 crimes, and Alphonse Bertillon, the French scientist whose guiding principle 'no two individuals share the same characteristics' became the core of identification. Along the way, it takes us to India and Australia, Columbia and China, Russia, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. And it proves that, in order to solve ever more complicated cases, science must always stay one step ahead of the killer.

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"It is a fascinating story, and makes for a thoroughly good read." (Bernard Porter Guardian)

"A convincing and readable history of a science defined by the simple maxim: 'Every contact leaves a trace.'" (Tom Whipple The Times)

"A real-life whodunnit." (Marcus Berkmann Daily Mail)

"A truly gripping story." (Big Issue in the North)

Book Description

A gripping history of forensic science by the creator of the BBC series Silent Witness

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Readable and Well Presented 3 Nov. 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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. 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.

I have to admit 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.

A must read for anyone who would like an accessible insight into the work of forensic scientists through the ages.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
Nigel McCrery has had an interesting career - an ex-policeman turned screenwriter, he's the man behind such successful TV dramas as Silent Witness and New Tricks, and has also written several crime novels. All of which makes him perhaps the ideal person to write a book on the history of the contribution of forensic science to crime detection.

Each chapter looks at a different aspect of forensics - ballistics, blood, fingerprinting, the human body, DNA etc. McCrery introduces us to the scientists and detectives who developed the techniques and tests that gradually led to the current state of play where forensics is one of the major planks of detection. In less skilled hands, this could be a very dry subject indeed, but McCrery writes flowingly and interestingly, making the people come to life and explaining the science in a way that is easy to understand.

What makes the book most interesting is that McCrery tells the stories of the true crimes that were the earliest to be solved by each individual technique, and he ranges widely across the world to do so. He takes us back in time to the earliest days of detection to give a picture of the primitive, sometimes barbaric, methods that were used prior to the development of scientific methods - so we learn, for instance, of the suspect forced to share a bed with the bodies of his supposed victims to see if guilt would produce a confession. Or how about the early method of identifying an unknown victim by sticking the head on a pole and displaying it in public?

McCrery uses a chronological approach to telling his story, so in the chapter on the gun, for instance, we learn about its history from its earliest appearance as a Chinese 'fire-lance', through the invention of flintlocks and on to revolvers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Silent witnesses 26 Sept. 2013
By steve
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Gripping and interesting a nice mixture of patients and science,very good eye opener to truth and justice and understanding in a subject most of us take for granted.well written.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Forensic Science and Violent Death 14 Oct. 2014
This is an intriguing account of the history of forensic science’s role in assisting the solution of crimes. The book covers the key developments in forensic science and their subsequent application to cases, mostly murders, which might well have otherwise have remained unsolved, or with the wrong person found guilty. The more recent use of DNA evidence is covered and its application to affirming the identity of the Romanov remains in Russia, as well as the identity of the body of Richard III in a Leicester car-park. The science is generally easy to understand, though the discussion of the analysis of blood groups is a little complicated. Generally, though, the prose verges on being perhaps just a little too simplistic. There are illustrations, but they do not really help to elucidate the content of the text. Overall, an informative and interesting read.
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By Stanley
This book presents a history of forensic science, made highly readable through a succession of (mainly) murder cases. It clearly represents the outcome of a good deal of research. The case history format is an excellent vehicle for conveying the science. The final chapter, on the use of DNA for identification in cases that included the Romanovs, Anastasia, and Richard III was particularly fascinating. There are a number of illustrations, and a good index.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Silent Witnessess. An Engaging Book 17 Sept. 2013
By ACB(swansea) TOP 50 REVIEWER
Forensic science has always been a subject of personal and professional interest but it's enthrallment is widespread. Nigel McCrery, with his police background and renowned creator of the television series, 'Silent Witness', has written a book that relates the history of forensic science. The balance is perfect for the interested reader. It does not delve into the depths of confusing facts but describes the important developments leading to the highly intricate art and science that is so important in criminology.

McCrery has an excellent and relaxing style that engages the reader in a comfortable style as he illustrates examples of detective and forensic progress with true crimes. Working through anthroplogical measurement (reconstructive skeletal work), the impact of toxicology, blood grouping, to the major advances of the uniqueness of fingerprints and later DNA sequencing, the ultimate genetic analysis that we presently have, the author explains and entertains. As an adjunct, DNA technology has progressed so much in recent years that hitherto crimes are being reopened.

Some of the histories of crime are necessarily detailed. Gruesome they may have been, but are no more so compared to some current atrocities. Having been involved with forensic blood grouping and it's limited specificity , it was a relief when Professor Alec Jeffrey applied the DNA knowledge to body tissues that has now taken the science into such an accurate diagnostic science. This technology is also something the innocent need not fear.

The author has written an entertaining and very readable book. It is for the layman, primarily, as was his television series - gripping.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book
Published 1 month ago by Janie J
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent, couldnt put it down even though its for study perpases
Published 2 months ago by MRS P S BOOTH
5.0 out of 5 stars No false promises
It does exactly what it says on the cover and it does it well.
Published 7 months ago by TPC
4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic background to the TV series
Does exactly what is says on the cover. Each forensic aspect is covered in interesting ways and put into context using past crimes. An excellent read.
Published 13 months ago by DENNYKINDLES
1.0 out of 5 stars great book
this was a perfect present for my neice. I'd heard it reviewed on the Radio4 book show and i was delighted that i'd been able to find it on this site.
Published 15 months ago by Jac Ingram
3.0 out of 5 stars "Every contact leaves a trace."
A fairly concise history of the use of science in crime solving, mostly centred on that of murder. The fascinating material is well structured with concise stories of cases which... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Grr
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dead Good Read!
This is an excellent book that does what bit says on the cover. Absorbing read as you discover the begins of the work of forensic science, with good historical examples of... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Robert Breustedt
5.0 out of 5 stars Silent witness
I found this book a consuming read, every contact leaves a trace, is very apt and really showed the developement of the science, a very good read

Published 18 months ago by Robin Bath
3.0 out of 5 stars Gratitude mixed with doubt as to the credibility of the facts
I am grateful to the author for providing me with a book that I had been waiting for; a book that sets out the history of forensic science. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Sally Walker
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