As mentioned in last week's blog, while home sick in bed I had a chance to get immersed in a very interesting book that I think has a lot of value for writers: Every Contact Leaves a Trace: Crime Scene Experts Talk About Their Work from Discovery Through Verdict, by Connie Fletcher.
This book deserves a lot more buzz than it got when it came out in 2006. It's interesting as heck for the general reader, but if I was an aspiring mystery or crime-fiction writer, it's one of the first things I'd read. Why? Because you get a great feel for crime scenes, courtroom scenes, the criminal mind, the mistakes criminals make, police work, police humor, and the enormous behind-the-scenes contribution of evidence and lab specialists.
In their own words, you hear from crime-scene processors, forensic scientists, veteran homicide detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, medical examiners, chemists and trace analysts. The book is packed with real crime and courtroom stories. (Fair warning: It's not for the squeamish, and is quite graphic in places.)
Fletcher, a journalism prof at Loyola University and author of a number of other police-related nonfiction books, offers two major themes that anyone writing about crime should be aware of: the profound revolution in crime-solving created by DNA evidence, and the amazing gullibility of TV watchers in thinking that the show CSI bears any significant relation to reality.
CSI has been so influential, according to stories presented in the book, that it has actually warped the expectations of jurors. A fingerprint specialist is quoted as saying that forensic scientists must sometimes spend their first 15 or 20 minutes on the witness stand "UNeducating the jury about CSI."
This CSI problem is not new at The Writer. Former veteran cop Lee Lofland, author of Police Procedure & Investigation, wrote about the problem for us in our September 2007 issue in an article headlined "CSI … I don't think so—Mystery writers, take note: A retired detective describes the not-so-glamorous life of a crime-scene investigator."
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