The best forensic science books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about forensic science and why they recommend each book.

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Corpse

By Jessica Snyder Sachs,

Book cover of Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death

Anyone who has been involved in the investigation of crime will tell you that establishing the time of the offence is vital. It’s always been surprisingly hard in the case of murder. This well-written book takes the reader through the advances and pitfalls in estimating the time of death accurately. It’s a superb work, full of scientific detail, and fascinating details which make this book a must for every crime writer.     


Who am I?

I write historical mysteries, and developed an interest in early forensics when I was a police officer. I have worked in private industry, as a civilian police worker, and in a department connected to the Home Office. Historical mysteries particularly appeal to me as they present a different, and very specific, challenge. There’s no lab to process evidence, and everything needs to be double-checked for anachronisms, even down to the colour of light from gas lamps in different areas. Extensive research acted as the foundation for developing the characters in The Innocents Mystery Series. I like my mysteries twisty, complex, and intricate; through a fog of history and a touch of light humour.  


I wrote...

Innocent Bystander

By Christine Anne Asbrey,

Book cover of Innocent Bystander

What is my book about?

Pinkerton Agent Abigail MacKay’s spoiled sister, Madeleine, has eloped with a widower whose wives mysteriously die—leaving behind a great deal of money each time. No doctor has been able to establish a cause of death for any of the women, but Abigail is sure they were murdered—and that her younger sister is going to be next. The only person who can help is the charismatic criminal, Nat Quinn—and Abi left him cooling his heels in jail at their last meeting.

Two competing reporters get involved, and cause chaos, along with an old nemesis of Nat’s coming into the mix. One thing is certain: David Bartholemew is a murderer. But how is he doing it?

Hazardous Duty

By Christy Barritt,

Book cover of Hazardous Duty

Before Amy Adams made Sunshine Cleaning, a movie about a crime scene cleaner, Christy Barritt created Gabby St. Claire who took on the same job after dropping out of forensic science school. While cleaning a crime scene, Gabby finds a murder weapon the police missed. She realizes the wrong person was put in jail and that powerful people want to keep it that way. Like my book, Hazardous Duty is written in first person using humor and larger-than-life characters to drive the mystery forward. I love the deep connection with the character’s interior life (with all her insecurities) that I get when I read a first-person novel.    


Who am I?

While I love books that reflect strong family values, I don’t like sugary sweetness to the point of unrealism. I prefer to read about real people who can make fun of themselves and the world. That sarcastic and biting edge seems to tap into a deeper honesty about life while making me roll around on the floor and break all my furniture.  


I wrote...

Romance Rustlers and Thunderbird Thieves: A Ruby Taylor Mystery

By Sharon Dunn,

Book cover of Romance Rustlers and Thunderbird Thieves: A Ruby Taylor Mystery

What is my book about?

A humorous whodunit with a chick-lit feel. Ruby Taylor is a woman with a master’s degree who works at a Montana feed store. Her search for the runaway groom of her mother’s church friend leads her to examine her own romantic past and through the wilderness with the help of the groom’s best friend. 

Criminal Investigation

By Hans Gross,

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

Europe was at the forefront of the revolution in forensic science in the 19th century. Way ahead of the UK, and decades ahead of the USA. While most of the pioneers were doctors, Gross was a lawyer. He made the language of the law more accessible. Written over a hundred-and-fifty years ago as a textbook, the style will appeal more to the academic reader and researcher of historical forensics. The Kindle version hasn’t been transcribed well, but is a fascinating window on the past nevertheless. 


Who am I?

I write historical mysteries, and developed an interest in early forensics when I was a police officer. I have worked in private industry, as a civilian police worker, and in a department connected to the Home Office. Historical mysteries particularly appeal to me as they present a different, and very specific, challenge. There’s no lab to process evidence, and everything needs to be double-checked for anachronisms, even down to the colour of light from gas lamps in different areas. Extensive research acted as the foundation for developing the characters in The Innocents Mystery Series. I like my mysteries twisty, complex, and intricate; through a fog of history and a touch of light humour.  


I wrote...

Innocent Bystander

By Christine Anne Asbrey,

Book cover of Innocent Bystander

What is my book about?

Pinkerton Agent Abigail MacKay’s spoiled sister, Madeleine, has eloped with a widower whose wives mysteriously die—leaving behind a great deal of money each time. No doctor has been able to establish a cause of death for any of the women, but Abigail is sure they were murdered—and that her younger sister is going to be next. The only person who can help is the charismatic criminal, Nat Quinn—and Abi left him cooling his heels in jail at their last meeting.

Two competing reporters get involved, and cause chaos, along with an old nemesis of Nat’s coming into the mix. One thing is certain: David Bartholemew is a murderer. But how is he doing it?

18 Tiny Deaths

By Bruce Goldfarb,

Book cover of 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics

This is a biography of one of the unsung heroines of forensic science, and a lady who should never have ventured into the world of work at all. A socialite born in 1870 is an unlikely feminist hero, but she not only made the investigation of violent crimes her life’s work, she revolutionised the methodologies. Once you’ve read this book you’ll never look at a doll’s house the same way again.     


Who am I?

I write historical mysteries, and developed an interest in early forensics when I was a police officer. I have worked in private industry, as a civilian police worker, and in a department connected to the Home Office. Historical mysteries particularly appeal to me as they present a different, and very specific, challenge. There’s no lab to process evidence, and everything needs to be double-checked for anachronisms, even down to the colour of light from gas lamps in different areas. Extensive research acted as the foundation for developing the characters in The Innocents Mystery Series. I like my mysteries twisty, complex, and intricate; through a fog of history and a touch of light humour.  


I wrote...

Innocent Bystander

By Christine Anne Asbrey,

Book cover of Innocent Bystander

What is my book about?

Pinkerton Agent Abigail MacKay’s spoiled sister, Madeleine, has eloped with a widower whose wives mysteriously die—leaving behind a great deal of money each time. No doctor has been able to establish a cause of death for any of the women, but Abigail is sure they were murdered—and that her younger sister is going to be next. The only person who can help is the charismatic criminal, Nat Quinn—and Abi left him cooling his heels in jail at their last meeting.

Two competing reporters get involved, and cause chaos, along with an old nemesis of Nat’s coming into the mix. One thing is certain: David Bartholemew is a murderer. But how is he doing it?

Legal Medicine in History

By Michael Clark (editor), Catherine Crawford (editor),

Book cover of Legal Medicine in History

Newcomers to the subject can turn to this indispensable collection of essays for an outstanding introduction to the key legal, institutional, and professional foundations of forensic medicine in Europe and the United States since the seventeenth century. Case studies of infanticide, the mentally ill, coroners’ inquests, and abortion show just how deeply embedded in social, political, and legal contexts forensic practices are, and highlight their power to inspire and shape socio-legal change. 


Who am I?

I work on topics where medicine, crime, and the law intersect, aided by an undergraduate degree in chemistry and stimulated by my fascination with how criminal justice systems work. I have published on the history of poisoning, vitriol attacks, assault, child murder, and the role of scientific expertise in criminal investigations and trials, focusing on Britain since the seventeenth century. I’ve contributed to many TV documentaries over the years, and enjoy the opportunity to explain just why the history of crime is about so much more than individual criminals: it shows us how people in the past lived their lives and helps explain how we got where we are today.  



I wrote...

Medicine and Justice: Medico-Legal Practice in England and Wales, 1700-1914

By Katherine D. Watson,

Book cover of Medicine and Justice: Medico-Legal Practice in England and Wales, 1700-1914

What is my book about?

This study uses 2,600 cases of murder and sexual assault to answer two central questions: what did doctors contribute to the investigation of serious violent crime in the period 1700 to 1914, and what impact did this have?

It shows that medico-legal work — that is, what doctors actually did when they were faced with a body that had become the victim of violence — developed in tandem with and was shaped by the needs of two evolving practices: pre-trial investigative procedures dominated successively by coroners, magistrates and the police; and criminal trials in which lawyers gradually assumed a central role. Doctors were therefore key contributors to the processes that shaped the modern criminal justice system in England and Wales.

Forensics

By Val McDermid,

Book cover of Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, Dna, and More Tell Us about Crime

Journalist and award-winning crime writer Val McDermid is known for her gritty novels. In Forensics, she draws on her connections to introduce us to forensic crime fighting around the world. The best part for me: she introduced behind-the-scenes elements to cases I thought I already knew. And she is a novelist. She knows how to tell a good story.


Who am I?

When I started writing mysteries, beginning with St. Martin’s Malice Award-winning Southern Fried, I wanted to get the medical, investigative, and courtroom details right. What better resource than good first-hand accounts from professionals who do those things every day? I must admit that, over several decades now, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Real life is full of stories that, if told as fiction, would leave readers rolling their eyes in disbelief. The gruesome and cruel don’t interest me. I’m drawn to the storytellers who can capture the worst moments and turn them into finely written, compelling, accurate stories, showing us the complexity of life. 


I wrote...

Charlotte True Crime Stories: Notorious Cases from Fraud to Serial Killing

By Cathy Pickens,

Book cover of Charlotte True Crime Stories: Notorious Cases from Fraud to Serial Killing

What is my book about?

Crimes that captivated the Charlotte area over the years run the gamut from missing people to the wrongly accused. This collection of headline stories features a little woman who got away with murder, violent motorcycle gangs, crusading mothers, a fraudster who claimed a president was poisoned by his wife, a serial killer who broke all the rules, and even the man who made Bigfoot. With a mystery novelist's ear for a good tale, Cathy Pickens presents more than a century of sensational sinister deeds that marked this diverse and dynamic city.

Overload Flux

By Carol Van Natta,

Book cover of Overload Flux

Mix a couple of strong, mysterious characters with a dangerous quest and you've got me. It's a plot where I had to pay attention as the danger ratchets up with betrayals and twists and turns that kept me guessing. There's enough detail in settings and tech to convince without any info dumps and the romance is an integral part of the story. Loved it.


Who am I?

For me, writing space opera was obvious because it's what I like to read. There's so much scope for human and non-human societies out there, complete with the history of how they were created, and the inevitable cut-and-thrust of politics. If the book also has a love story– where do I pay my money? I do like the science in my science fiction to be convincing, though. My background as a computer programmer helps with that and I'm often grateful for my history degree when coming up with convincing empires and events. 


I wrote...

The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy

By Greta van der Rol,

Book cover of The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy

What is my book about?

Brilliant systems engineer Allysha Marten takes a job on the mysterious planet Tisyphor, where a security guard wins her trust and her affection. Together, they uncover a plot that threatens to plunge the Galaxy into inter-species war. As they scramble to prevent the coming holocaust, Allysha is horrified to learn that her new lover is ex-Admiral Chaka Saahren, the man responsible for the death of her father, along with millions of other innocent civilians.

In a race against time, Saahren must convince Allysha to set aside her conflicted emotions about him to help him prevent the coming conflagration. And perhaps while he’s doing that, he’ll win back the only woman he’s ever loved.

The Killer of Little Shepherds

By Douglas Starr,

Book cover of The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science

Starr, a journalist, dug deep into French archives to document the crime spree and investigation of “French Ripper” Joseph Vacher, whom journalists speculated might be the still-uncaught Jack the Ripper. Lacassagne evaluated Vacher, who was accused of viciously murdering and mutilating fourteen young people around the French countryside. Starr includes the story of how a magistrate meticulously created one of the earliest behavioral profiles, which Lacassagne used for his own analysis. This is an impressive story of mental detection in 1896, a time when there were few resources, especially for cross-jurisdiction investigation. It took a special kind of inventive mind to link incident reports and make this savage killer accountable every crime he committed. Years before the publication of the first story featuring Sherlock Holmes, Lacassagne exercised full critical examination and became one of the top innovators in Europe.


Who am I?

I’ve been immersed in books about true crime investigation for nearly thirty years, as a writer, a blogger for Psychology Today, and a professor of forensic psychology. Of my 68 published books and over 1,500 articles, many are devoted to historical accounts of forensic science, investigation, and serial murder, so I’ve perused hundreds of books from different time periods. Around a dozen books stand out for the quality of research and narrative momentum, or for the dogged persistence of a real-life Sherlock Holmes. Those five that I picked effectively demonstrate how an investigation should proceed, no matter the odds.


I wrote...

How to Catch a Killer, Volume 1: Hunting and Capturing the World's Most Notorious Serial Killers

By Katherine Ramsland,

Book cover of How to Catch a Killer, Volume 1: Hunting and Capturing the World's Most Notorious Serial Killers

What is my book about?

From forensic innovation and solid police work to mistakes killers made, this book covers the different ways in which thirty serial killers have been caught. Among them are famous cases like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, as well as lesser known offenders like the Italian soapmaker who dismembered three friends to save her son and the Japanese predator who posed as a partner for suicide pacts.

Hiding the Past

By Nathan Dylan Goodwin,

Book cover of Hiding the Past

Peter Coldrick is a man without a past, that is until he hires forensic genealogist, Morton Farrier. There are those who will go to any lengths to ensure that Coldrick’s origins remain hidden. Morton’s investigations lead him into danger and make him realise that he needs to begin the quest to uncover the story of his own hidden past.


Who am I?

I inhabit the past. You may find me lurking in my four-hundred-year-old Devon cottage, or spot me thinly disguised as the formidable Mistress Agnes, a good wife of a certain age who leads a somewhat chaotic life during the mid-seventeenth century. I write, I read, I research, I share my passion, I write some more. My life revolves around reading, writing and researching history. Having spent the past forty-five years unravelling my own family’s story and loving both historical and crime novels, what could be better than a book that combines all these elements. I have to say that if genealogy was as dangerous a career as some of these books imply, no one would be advised to take it up!


I wrote...

Sins as Red as Scarlet: a Devon Town in Turmoil

By Janet Few,

Book cover of Sins as Red as Scarlet: a Devon Town in Turmoil

What is my book about?

Sins as Red as Scarlet is the unfolding of the lives of those whose prejudices and fears were shaped by the turmoil of plague, of war, and of religious dissent. The novel sheds new light on the true story of three impoverished women who were condemned to death in 1682 for the crime of witchcraft.

I particularly wanted to draw modern parallels, so in the novel, we also meet Martha, who is living in a slightly alternative version of 2020. Sixteen-year-old Martha, herself a bullies’ target, undertakes a school local history project. Probing the motivations and beliefs of Bideford’s seventeenth-century residents, Martha comes to understand how past events might lead ordinary people to become the victims, the accusers, or the accused.

The Poisoner's Handbook

By Deborah Blum,

Book cover of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

A fun romp through many famous cases where “he done her in” (or vice versa) by such varied poisons as arsenic, strychnine, potassium cyanide, cyanide of mercury (even deadlier than potassium!), with an analysis of the policing and chemists’ methods used to nab the perpetrators. Not as common today as in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, death by poison was once the preferred, most devious, means for people to eliminate their enemies, ex-lovers, husbands, and wives. Taste that drink before you down it!


Who am I?

I’d written modern true crime before—a book that helped solve a 40-year-old cold case—and wanted to try my hand at historical true crime. I live in Manhattan, home to the greatest crime stories of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so I was able to see the actual locations where the grisliest murders, the biggest bank heists, and the crookedest con games took place. What really drew me in, though, were the many colorful, unforgettable characters, both good and bad, cops and robbers, who walked the bustling streets of Old New York during the fascinating era known as the Gilded Age. 


I wrote...

Rogues' Gallery: The Birth of Modern Policing and Organized Crime in Gilded Age New York

By John Oller,

Book cover of Rogues' Gallery: The Birth of Modern Policing and Organized Crime in Gilded Age New York

What is my book about?

Rogues’ Gallery is a sweeping, epic tale of two revolutions that played out on the streets of Old New York during the Gilded Age. For centuries, New York had been a haven for crime. A thief or murderer not caught in the act nearly always got away. But in the early 1870s, police developed new ways to catch criminals: Mug shots and daily lineups helped witnesses point out culprits; the famed rogues’ gallery allowed police to track repeat offenders; and the third-degree interrogation method induced recalcitrant crooks to confess. Yet as policing became ever more specialized and efficient, crime itself became bolder and more elaborate, murders grew more ruthless and macabre, and the street gangs of old transformed into organized crime, including the Mafia. 

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