WRITTEN ON THE SKIN
Liz Porter

 


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Pan Macmillan Australia, this edition Aug 2006
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill

If you’ve ever wondered whether the tv show CSI is even close to reality, then WRITTEN ON THE SKIN is the book to answer your questions.

The book’s subtitle is An Australian Forensic Case Book and that’s exactly what it is. There are ten sections: Reading the Blood, Reading the the Bones, Reading the Crime Scene. You get the idea. And within each of these sections there are individual cases, each with their own heading. This layout makes it easy for the reader to look up an area that interests them, or individual cases.

In each section, Porter gives us a brief history of the specific area of forensic science and then relates real cases to illustrate the developments made. She also goes into some technical detail for those who wish to know the nuts and bolts of procedures.

Porter has chosen a wide cross-section of cases. There is the famous: The conviction of Lindy Chamberlain for murdering her baby Azaria was overturned after DNA and blood spatter analysis on the baby’s matinee jacket was discovered. The matching of individual teeth to dental records enabled identification of victims of the Bali Bombing in 2002. And there is the bizarre: the conviction of a burglar based on analysis of tooth marks in a wad of chewing gum left at the scene.

What is remarkable in many of the cases is the persistence and dogged determination of both scientists and detectives. In some instances they continued with testing for months and occasionally years. You cannot help but admire the scientist who spent 6 months searching for an individual truck involved in a hit and run accident, which caused the death of a twelve year old boy. Starting with a base of 160,000 trucks he managed by a process of elimination and analysis of the few clues left at the scene to finally track down the truck and driver responsible for the boy’s death.

It would be so easy for a book such as this to be very dry and dull reading but Porter has managed to balance technical detail with succinct story telling. WRITTEN ON THE SKIN doesn’t need to be read cover to cover. The way it’s set out makes it very easy for the reader to be able to dip into the book

For anyone with an interest in forensic science, WRITTEN ON THE SKIN is a must for the bookshelf.

Oct 2006 Review originally published on Murder & Mayhem

 

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