The field of forensic science is HOT, popularized by the various CSI television shows and now the series of books written based on the programs. Crime TV is another popularizer of forensic science, gluing millions of people to their sets whenever the latest “Trial of the Century” occurs. If you’re looking for good basic introductory information about the history of forensics that also deals with some of the most infamous crime cases in yesterday’s and today’s headlines, Bodies of Evidence by Dr. Scott Christianson fits the bill perfectly.
It’s a book that can be enjoyed by the layperson, one that won’t put readers off with excessive jargon. Bodies of Evidence commences with a short history of forensics and a useful “Forensics Timeline” and Crime Scene Investigation Glossary is helpful to highlight the major advances and crimes of the past (and to aid in understanding any jargon that the author uses). There is even a list of poisons and their symptoms and another one of the shows that’ve portrayed forensic on the screen, including one of the first, Quincy, M.E.. The history of forensics can be a bit dry if one doesn’t take into account the cases along the way, so the Introduction is not quite as engaging as the rest of the book, though it does contain good background information.
Bodies of Evidence’s strong points are both the “Case Studies” of infamous crime cases and sidebars shaped like pieces of film strip with photos and background on some of the field’s most famous forensics and pathology experts who have testified in some infamous cases. Examples of the cases covered include the JonBenet Ramsey case (previous, of course, to the recent news of John Karr’s involvement); the O.J. Simpson trial; Richard Ramirez, a.k.a., the “Nightstalker”; and the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh. Many more are covered, but these are a few that should whet any true crime afficionado’s appetite.
Perhaps the most famous forensics expert Christianson mentions is Dr. Henry C. Lee, the “King of Crime Scene Investigation.” He gets more attention than the sidebar highlighting others. Lee gets the star treatment he deserves - seven pages’ worth of coverage, including a half-page photo. Dr. Henry C. Lee has played a large role in many big cases, including the Woodchipper case; the 1993 shooting death of Vincent Foster, White House counsel to President Clinton; as expert witness for the so-called “Dream Team” in O.J. Simpson’s murder trial; and examining Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress, the much-ballyhooed one so much in the headlines and used by people seeking Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
Christianson’s learned treatment of forensics science in Bodies of Evidence is sure to lead even more people into considering this as an employment choice. The book is information-packed, with many full-color and black-and-white photographs of forensic experts, crime scenes, and infamous criminals. On a personal note, I have a son in high school who is seriously considering a career in the field of forensics; he thoroughly liked this book, as did I. On the whole, Bodies of Evidence is a good introduction to forensics, and it presents a fascinating overview of some of the biggest crime cases in history.