Skip to main content

The Father of Forensics – Colin Evans ***

I have to state right away that this book was a cracking read – I really enjoyed it, even if the pleasure was something of a guilty one. The only reason it hasn’t got more stars is that, as we’ll see, there’s little science in it, and some really opportunities missed for that.
It’s the story of Sir Bernard Spilsbury, once Britain’s foremost forensic pathologist. As the subtitle says, it’s ‘how Sir Bernard Spilsbury invented modern CSI.’ In truth (and this is why the pleasure was a touch guilty) it’s mostly a true crime book, describing the key cases Spilsbury was involved in. Yes, we are told what Spilsbury did – but the real meat of each story is the lurid crime itself, starting with the one that launched Spilsbury as a superb expert witness, Crippen. I don’t know why, but there are some historical murder cases that stick in the collective consciousness, and Crippen’s crime in 1910 (followed by his capture after fleeing across the Atlantic) has stood the test of time.
So, plenty of great cases, and clever work from Sir Bernard. But hardly anything about the science of crime scene investigation and forensic work, which in the end is what I’d expect from a book being marketed as popular science. A couple of times we hear that Spilsbury really changed the scientific armoury of his profession – but there is hardly any detail about what was involved.
When it comes down to it, if I were a bookseller, and choosing where to put this book, it would go in true crime. not popular science. However, it doesn’t stop it being a compelling piece of writing. Evans dramatizes events with just enough details to carry the reader along. It’s factual, but has all the enticement of a crime novel.
Paperback:  
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Adam Roberts - Four Way Interview

Adam Roberts is commonly described as one of the UK's most important writers of SF. He is the author of numerous novels and literary parodies. He is Professor of 19th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, London University, and has written a number of critical works on both SF and 19th Century poetry. His latest novel is The Real-Town Murders.

Why science fiction?

Because it's the best thing in the world. I work for the University of London, which is to say: in effect, I'm paid to read books (and teach them, and write about them) and that means I read a lot of books; and that means you can believe me when I say that SF/Fantasy, and especially (even though it's not something I write) YA SF/Fantasy, is where all the most exciting writing is happening nowadays. You might wonder why I think so: but that's a whole other question, and you've already used up your four ...

Why this book?

So, I came across an account of one of Alfred Hitchcock's (many) unfinished projec…

UFO Drawings from the National Archives - David Clarke ***

This is a lovely little book that, sadly, not every reader will see the point of. If somebody’s anecdotal account of a presumed alien encounter is obviously a misperception of a mundane occurrence, or else too vague – or too far-fetched – to be taken seriously, then it’s all too easy to dismiss it as worthless. But that’s missing the point. The fact that so many incidents are reported in these terms makes the witnesses’ testimony worthy of serious study – to teach us, not about extraterrestrial civilisations, but about our own culture.

That was the core message of David Clarke’s excellent How UFOs Conquered the World published a couple of years ago. Now Clarke is back with another take on the same basic theme.  His day job is Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, but for the last ten years he’s also acted as consultant for the National Archives project to release all of Britain’s official Ministry of Defence (MoD) files on UFOs. Throughout the Cold…

Crashing Heaven (SF) - Al Robertson ****

There's an engaging mix of powerful thriller and science fiction in this impressive novel. After the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, human life is limited to vast space station. Our central character, Jack, has a symbiotic artificial intelligence, Hugo Fist, designed to destroy other AIs in a mysterious collective that is said to have committed an atrocity - but with a kick in the tail that because of an unbreakable contract, Fist will take over Jack's body in a few weeks' time.

Al Robertson packs remarkable technology concepts into the cyber side of this story, from AI corporations that act as a pantheon of gods to the 'puppet' that is Fist (he usually come across as a virtual cross between Mr Punch and an evil ventriloquist's dummy). Robertson does all the cyber stuff so well that it's easy to miss that this is, in effect, a myth in electronic clothing - you could substitute the myths of 'real' Greek gods and magic for what happens here. Alt…