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4.4 out of 5 stars21
4.4 out of 5 stars
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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
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. At each step he explains what methods could be used to match a gun with its bullets and, while I must admit my lack of knowledge about 'rifling' has never kept me awake, I found it unexpectedly interesting. On the subject of blood, McCrery takes us back to the days when there was no test to differentiate between human and animal blood, and then leads us through the development of blood-typing and the increasingly sophisticated tests that could be used to match samples. The chapter on poison reveals, amongst other things, why it's often thought of as a 'woman's weapon' as he tells us about the history of women in the days of forced marriages forming little societies to get rid of their unwanted husbands.

And finally, McCrery ends with a look at DNA and how this has revolutionised detection, both as a means of catching the guilty but equally importantly of clearing the innocent. The cases he uses throughout as examples are interesting and well-told, though as we reached closer to the present, I felt a little uncomfortable with the thought of using murders still within living memory as part of what is really an entertainment. However, he does it with a good deal of sensitivity and due respect for both victims and their families.

A fascinating and informative book that is also well-written and enjoyable. Recommended to anyone with an interest in murder...

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 October 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 September 2013
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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on 25 November 2015
This was an enjoyable book covering the history and application of some of the key elements that we take for granted in the solving of modern day crime.Nigel McCrery writes with authority and understanding of the various methods that are used to solve crime. I particularly liked the case studies which illustrated very well the development of the techniques, and how they came to be accepted by judges, juries, prosecution and defence barristers and society as a whole. I would have found it useful to have a bibliography at the end of the book to allow me to follow up any interesting developments in the history of forensic science. Crime is an age old activity yet finding scientific methods, and therefore reliable methods of catching criminals and convicting them remains always in the development stage. The analogy today with scams we are always one step behind the scammers.
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on 3 July 2014
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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on 25 August 2015
Very interesting read. I've read lots of books on a similar theme. Nigel featured some of the most famous cases that supported the different chapter headings but also used new cases that I was not familiar with and that made for a riveting read. I look forward to discovering other books from this author.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 17 September 2013
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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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2013
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. Grateful because I have undertaken extensive research of a murder that took place nearly a century ago and I wanted to be able to place it within its forensic science context. This book enables me to do this.

It catalogues the development of forensic science by a detailing of the development of seven different methods of forensics: identification, ballistics, blood, trace evidence, the body, poisons and DNA. The sometimes complex scientific details are enlivened by accounts of murders in which the forensic method in discussion resulted in a conviction, or in the case of the final chapter on DNA in release and full pardon. The latter chapter is particularly fascinating because of its account of how DNA fingerprinting identified the buried remains of a family in Yekaterinburg, Russia as those of the Romanov family and the remains of a skeleton found in a Leicester car park as being those of Richard III.

The writing hits the right balance between giving sufficient detail without swamping the reader in science and, in addition, giving the human side of each murder case used to illustrate the forensic method in question.

Where I have criticism of McCrery is in the accuracy of the facts. I can only comment in relation to the particular murder which I have researched for now in excess of a year. Some of the facts are incorrect and for me this undermines the credibility of the facts contained within this book. Elsewhere there are contradictory facts. Some may think me picky, but I think not, particularly in a book about forensic science whose credibility necessarily relies upon accuracy.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 November 2013
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 have featured significantly in the development of the main areas of forensic studies over the years. Also gives brief details of the celebrated scientists who have contributed to important advances.

The book is reasonably well written if slightly given to hyperbole at times. Of more concern is the accuracy of some of the facts presented. It is a little disconcerting to read that a particular, well known scientist died in 1932, and then within a few sentences be told that without a doubt, his most celebrated case was one that occurred in 1935. There may be other errors, but if so they are not that obvious.

Nevertheless, for the general reader, it is an absorbing book.
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