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Blood, Bullets, and Bones: The Story of Forensic Science From Sherlock Holmes to DNA

Review

Blood, Bullets, and Bones: The Story of Forensic Science From Sherlock Holmes to DNA

For over 100 years the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper have fascinated and mystified. This case, though so many details of it are well known, remains unsolved. Like many a crime book, Bridget Heos’s BLOOD, BULLETS, AND BONES: The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA begins with the Ripper and his victims. But, the focus here is not primarily on the identity of the killer but on the science of the crime scenes and investigations. England in 1888 was poised on the edge of new technologies and methods that would alter detective work and court cases, bringing more precise tools as well as inventive modes of understanding crime and investigation.

"Heos’s style is straightforward and avoids sensationalizing the crime she describes....This book is informative, well researched and well presented, a great pick for curious readers with a strong stomach."

Much of BLOOD, BULLETS, AND BONES is devoted to poison tests. This is because until recently, poison was a murder weapon of choice and also because tests for poisonings were some of the first developed in crime analysis. In 1806, before Jack the Ripper terrorized the dark alleys of London, Dr. Valentine Rose devised a method to check a corpse for the presence of poison. Over the next 200 years various doctors and scientists perfected methods for finding evidence of poison in victims. The result was that poisonings fell out of favor with would-be killers.

In the 1880s, the office of the medical examiner came into fashion, based often on the older role of the coroner but adding medical or scientific expertise to the job. Medical examinations of murder victims assisted detectives and lawyers in finding the perpetrators and building cases for conviction. The crime scene analysis so familiar to fans of television procedural dramas today was built upon a series of methods and technologies such as trace evidence, handwriting analysis, blood spatter and fingerprint analysis and more. Some methods, like the Bertillion measurements for criminal identification have fallen out of favor, replaced by some sure evidence like DNA. However, as Heos notes, nothing can replace the careful work, critical thinking and keen eye of a talented investigator on the job!

From the 1672 French poisoning spree known as L’Affaire des Poisons to the 2007 exoneration of convicted murderer Roy Brown, Heos presents centuries of gruesome crime and the investigative methods that helped solved them and thwart further harm. BLOOD, BULLETS, AND BONE is gruesome indeed and definitely not for the faint of heart or easily scared. Still, Heos’s style is straightforward and avoids sensationalizing the crime she describes. The history of forensic science and investigative techniques is fascinating and Heos uses real cases (as well as a few fictional tales) to support and explain the ideas she presents. This book is informative, well researched and well presented, a great pick for curious readers with a strong stomach.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 13, 2018

Blood, Bullets, and Bones: The Story of Forensic Science From Sherlock Holmes to DNA
by Bridget Heos