A crime scene investigator notes the tiny indentations on the fragments of a tin can identified at a bomb site. After months of testing he is able to match them to the can opener that made them – and lead police to the bomb-maker who used it.
A forensic dentist documents the marks in chewing gum dropped by a thief during a burglary and matches them to the teeth of the suspect. A forensic physician examines an abused child, “reading” the terrible alphabet that fists and weapons write on the skin and identifying a mother’s hairbrush as the source of the “tramline bruising” on her daughter’s leg.
Liz Porter’s riveting casebook shows how forensic investigators – including pathologists, chemists, entomologists, DNA specialists and document examiners – have used their specialist knowledge to identify victims, catch perpetrators, exonerate innocent suspects and solve dozens of crimes and mysteries.
Liz Porter is a journalist who began her career in Hong Kong and then worked in Sydney, London and Stuttgart before returning to her home town of Melbourne, where she is a feature writer for the Sunday Age. She has won awards for her writing on legal issues and has published a novel. She lives with her partner, her daughter and the obligatory female-writer quota of two cats and is a hopelessly devoted fan of the St Kilda Football Club.
For those who like “real life” CSI – this is a terrific book. It brings together a wide range of forensic cases grouped according to whether they deal with “blood” “bones” “organs” “skin” “teeth” “fire” “insects” or “documents”.
If anything this book is a testament to human ingenuity. First of all is the ingenuity of the author in tackling such a wide range of scientific and technical issues, and being able to explain them in an interesting and instructive manner in the context of the cases she is dealing with.
Then, of course, there is the rather perverse ingenuity of the people who are the subject of these cases. It is quite shocking to realise just what human beings are capable of doing to each other; bashed, stabbed, shot, burned, poisoned, defrauded. This book has it all. Then having despatched one another, there is the ingenuity involved in attempting the cover-up, or the explanation as to why or how another has gone missing. Its all terribly sad.
Then comes the ingenuity of the investigators. I must say, that having studied myself so many examples of miscarriages of justice, I found it quite refreshing to read about investigators who are dedicated to their respective tasks. The number of examples which Porter had studied where police and forensic investigators had gone way beyond their duty in pursuing inquiries or piecing together tiny fragments of information or of bones or teeth in order to arrive at a conclusion one way or another was both remarkable, and sufficient to restore one’s faith in human nature.
THERE are no holds barred in this behind-the-scenes look at the forensics of police detective work. It shows how a strong stomach is as much a necessity as a determination to see justice done. Liz Porter has picked cases from a roster that includes child molestation and rape, murder and deliberate disfigurement. She shows how scientific studies of abrasions, blood stains, bone damage, DNA and cooling and decomposition rates have developed since the 1970s and how such technologies have been used – and sometimes abused – in criminal prosecutions. A bedtime book only if your intellectual curiosity can override your dismay and discomfort.