The best books since the beginning of crime

Who am I?

I’m a crime historian and storyteller. I study old crimes, particularly those of scientific interest, and present my findings in public presentations. Sometimes I write about them- in the NY Times, Smithsonian, Lancet, Ellery Queen. I’ve researched in autopsy suites, crumbling archives, and crime labs. I was the founder and moderator of the annual Forensic Forum at Stony Brook University. I’ve consulted on criminal matters for PBS, BBC, and commercial stations. I am fascinated by ancient crime because so much great literature derives from it - the sadly dysfunctional Oedipus family, the fraternal dispute between Cain and Abel- the unhappy Borden family of Fall River. All grist for my mill.

I wrote...

The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases

By E.J. Wagner,

Book cover of The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases

What is my book about?

"Holmes is, first, a great detective, but he has also proven to be a great scientist, whether dabbling with poisons, tobacco ash, or tire marks. Wagner explores this fascinating aspect of his career by showing how his investigations were grounded in the cutting-edge science of his day, especially the emerging field of forensics .... Utterly compelling. " Otto Penzler, member of the Baker Street Irregulars and proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop

The Science of Sherlock Holmes won an Edgar Mystery Writers' award as well.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner

Why did I love this book?

Before the Metropolitan Police (popularly known as Scotland Yard) existed, the Bow Street Runners were in charge of criminal investigation in Britain. Henry Goddard, the brilliant and incisive Runner, employed Sherlockian techniques years before the first Sherlock Holmes story was published. In later years, as a private detective, he continued to investigate and solve famous and complex crimes-He traveled widely, pursuing suspects through the Middle East, Europe, and Australia all of which he vividly describes.

In his old age, he dictated these memoirs, which give us a detailed account of his methods, and how he found "The Man With the Hidden Limp" and how he proved "The Butler Really Did It." It also makes clear how many errors of fact crept into later accounts of these famous crimes. Anyone with an interest in early criminal history will find this fascinating.

By Henry Goddard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the Regency and early Victorian eras, Henry Goddard, one of the last of the Bow Street Runners, chased criminals in London and through out the Kingdom, and around the globe; to France, Australia, New York, the Wild West; and made private enquiries for the King of England.
Born in 1800 in London, he was employed at Bow Street in London as a Patrol Constable from 1824 until he was promoted to be a Runner in 1827 and he remained a Runner until the Bow Street Runners were disbanded in 1839, and he became a private detective.
He wrote his…

Book cover of Criminal Investigation: A Practical Handbook for Magistrates, Police Officers and Lawyers

Why did I love this book?

Hans Gross, Professor of Criminology, first published this book in his native German in 1893. It was translated into English, among other languages, by 1908, and remains one of the great seminal works on criminal investigation. It is also full of fascinating and sometimes gory detail.

Gross details the importance of recording every minute trace at a crime scene, and the need for a thorough search for evidence, sometimes in peculiar places. He illustrates his technique by recounting a number of bizarre crimes, the stolen coins hidden in a pot of boiling soup, the meaning of missing blood at a murder, the odd sexual habits of "The Chicken Man”. He writes of suspects who feign deafness and the methods needed to detect them. He is inventive and expressive. 

Written in the same period as the Sherlock Holmes stories, projecting a similar approach to the criminals, it gives us insight into Holmes's development. Surely Mr. Holmes read this at some point.

By Hans Gross,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Criminal Investigation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Excerpt from Criminal Investigation

This Indian and Colonial edition, while omitting some portions of the original which would be of no use to the practical worker, for example, the slang words of Bohemian gipsies, thus contains much new and interesting matter, the better to adapt the book for India and the Colonies, and also to bring the last German edition of 1904 thoroughly up to date. These new passages, derived from the writings of specialists, the latest criminal intelligence, and the somewhat extensive experience of the adap tors as criminal lawyers, are interwoven with the text.

Legal Medicine Volume 2

By Charles Meymott Tidy,

Book cover of Legal Medicine Volume 2

Why did I love this book?

Dr. Tidy’s work of two slim volumes packs a wallop of information about pathology in the Victorian Age. Not only does he explain how to examine dead bodies and their surroundings, he lists, at the bottom of the chapters, pertinent cases from legal history and from his own practice. It’s here that we discover convincing evidence that there was an adequate test for hemoglobin well before Holmes claimed to have invented it. Tidy even gives in detail the murder trial at which it was used to get a conviction.

This is a great source for anyone looking for crime novel plots-it’s knowledgeable, detailed, scientific, and compelling.

Note: When Dr. Tidy’s book was first published in 1882 it was offered as a boxed set of two slim volumes. As they are cross-referenced it is most useful to have volumes 1 and 2. Fortunately, Amazon offers both.

By Charles Meymott Tidy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Legal Medicine Volume 2 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Unlike some other reproductions of classic texts (1) We have not used OCR(Optical Character Recognition), as this leads to bad quality books with introduced typos. (2) In books where there are images such as portraits, maps, sketches etc We have endeavoured to keep the quality of these images, so they represent accurately the original artefact. Although occasionally there may be certain imperfections with these old texts, we feel they deserve to be made available for future generations to enjoy.

Book cover of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Why did I love this book?

Along with a complete reprinting of all the Sherlock Holmes stories, this is an incredibly well-researched account of the background from which they sprang. Leslie Klinger clarifies and defines many of the archaic terms and complex historical quirks which sometimes makes the initial reading of Sherlock Holmes difficult for newcomers to the Canon. He delineates the tales connection to the true crimes upon which Conan Doyle drew. It’s a bit like seeing an old, somewhat blurry photograph suddenly sharpened to give maximum impact. It’s simply necessary for anyone with a serious interest in Mr. Holmes.

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The publication of Leslie S. Klinger's brilliant new annotations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic Holmes short stories in 2004 created a Holmes sensation. Available again in an attractively-priced edition identical to the first, except this edition has no outer slipcase (Volume Two is available separately).

Inside, readers will find all the short stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, with a cornucopia of insights: beginners will benefit from Klinger's insightful biographies of Holmes, Watson, and Conan Doyle; history lovers will revel in the wealth of Victorian literary and cultural details; Sherlockian fanatics will…

Book cover of The Blooding: The Dramatic True Story of the First Murder Case Solved by Genetic "Fingerprinting"

Why did I love this book?

The Blooding recounts a gripping true tale of murders in the picturesque English countryside-but aside from its haunting atmosphere, it is a detailed account of the beginning of DNA as a crime-solving technique. We have come a long way since the mid-1980s, and we can get much more information from newer DNA methods, but the detailed explanation of exactly how this worked as a revolutionary method is invaluable. Reading this book puts the reader at the very beginning of a revolution.

By Joseph Wambaugh,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Blooding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fifteen-year-old Lynda Mann's savagely raped and strangled body is found along a shady footpath near the English village of Narborough.  Though a massive 150-man dragnet is launched, the case remains unsolved.  Three years later the killer strikes again, raping and strangling teenager Dawn Ashforth only a stone's throw from where Lynda was so brutally murdered.  But it will take four years, a scientific breakthrough, the largest manhunt in British crime annals, and the blooding of more than four thousand men before the real killer is found.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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