Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Forensics by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

book cover

Howdunit: Forensics
by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

ISBN-13: 978-1-58297-474-3
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Writers Digest Books
Released: April 4, 2008

Source: Bought through Half.com.

Book Description from Back Cover, slightly modified:
Just because you don't have all the tools and training of a full-time medical examiner, doesn't mean you can't learn your way around a crime scene.

In Forensics, award-winning author and TV show consultant D.P. Lyle, M.D., takes each area of forensics--from fingerprint analysis to crime scene reconstruction--and discusses its development, how the science works, and how it helps in crime solving. This comprehensive reference guide includes:

  • Real-life case files and the role forensic evidence played in solving the crimes

  • A breakdown of the forensics system from its history and organization to standard evidence classification and collection methods

  • Detailed information on what a dead body can reveal--including the cause, mechanism, and manner of death

  • The actual steps taken to preserve a crime scene and the evidence that can be gathered there, such as bloodstains, documents, fingerprints, tire impressions, and more

Forensics is the ultimate resource for learning how to accurately imbue your stories with authentic details of untimely demises.

My Review:
Howdunit: Forensics is a basic course in forensics. Though the subtitle says it's a guide for writers, there's a lot more information in it than an author could use in a novel without bogging the action down (though I do highly recommend they read this!). It's actually a book for anyone interested in learning the basics of forensics. It doesn't say things like, "In your novel, you could do this..." but simply gives real life examples of how everything works or how real criminals act.

The book was well-written and interesting. I never had a problem following what the author was explaining even though it did get technical at times. A wide range of topics were covered with enough depth that most people would learn all they cared to know. Brief, real case files or made-up examples were used to demonstrate how a certain technique is used to reconstruct the crime scene or help identify a criminal. The book covered murders, but also theft, arson, and forgery. It talked about determining if a death was from natural causes, accident, suicide, or homicide. The author also gave a little history about how various techniques were developed and improved over the decades.

Overall, I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about forensics.

Topics covered: Medical examiners versus coroners; gathering evidence; the steps involved in an autopsy and what can be discovered; how to discover the identity of a dead body; determining the time of death; determining how the victim died; identifying what caused the wounds; what to look for in suffocation cases (including hanging and strangling); using blood and bodily fluids to help identify the criminal; using DNA to identify the criminal; how to identify when toxic substances (including drug overdose and poisons) caused death; fingerprints; using bloodstains to reconstruct the sequence of a crime; finding, preserving, and using impressions (of shoes, tires, tools, and fabric); finding and using trace evidence (hairs, fur, etc.); identifying the gun type and specific gun used in a crime from bullets, etc.; arson investigation; handwriting and forgery examination; and profiling. The appendix contained more information about the various tools used in forensics.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One, page 9
This book will not deal with the techniques of law enforcement and investigation but rather look into the functions of the criminalists, the crime lab, and the medical examiner. This is still a huge undertaking, and as we go along you will see that the domain of forensic science involves many scientific disciplines. It is organized in many different ways.

As I said earlier, the development of modern forensic science paralleled advances in science, particularly the physical and biological sciences. The invention of the microscope, the development of photography, the understanding of the physics of ballistic trajectories, and the discovery of blood typing and DNA analysis are examples of such advances. Before these scientific principles and procedures were applied to criminal investigations, they underwent many years of refinement.

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