Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid

Forensics The Anatomy of Crime

Rating: 4 Stars ★★★★☆

The face of justice we know today has not always been judicious.


The dead talk—to the right listener. They can tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died, and, of course, who killed them. Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help serve justice using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene, or the faintest of human traces. Forensics draws on interviews with some of these top-level professionals, ground-breaking research, and McDermid’s own original interviews and firsthand experience on scene with top forensic scientists.

Along the way, McDermid discovers how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine one’s time of death; how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer; and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist were able to uncover the victims of a genocide. It’s a journey that will take McDermid to war zones, fire scenes, and autopsy suites, and bring her into contact with both extraordinary bravery and wickedness, as she traces the history of forensics from its earliest beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.


This book is divided into several chapters, each detailing a different aspect of forensic science, from entomology to forensic psychology.

Each chapter relates the history of the great developments that led to the techniques being used in forensics today.

He wrote a landmark 7-volume textbook on what he called ‘criminalistics’, but probably his most influential contribution to forensic science is his simple phrase, known as the Locard Exchange Principle: “Every contact leaves a trace.”

It was really fascinating to see not only how police work today, but how they worked in the past. Each chapter also has distinctive cases that illustrate how a particular technique helped to bring down a criminal.

In the chapter on toxicology, the following case is presented:

Over the next dozen years Mary Ann became the most prolific female serial killer in British history. Although it will never be known exactly how many people she poisoned with arsenic, she likely murdered her mother, three of her four husbands (the other one refused to take out a life insurance policy), a lover, eight of her twelve children and seven stepchildren – at least twenty people in total.

Those cases were written in a very compelling, descriptive manner. Each chapter is a very well-written account of the science behind the technique mixed with the readability of a crime novel.

It makes this book a really compelling and enjoyable read.


Utterly fascinting book on the history, application and new developments in forensic science.


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