Murder and the Making of English CSI

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Burney & Pemberton’s Murder and the Making of English CSI looks at the birth and development of crime scene investigating through the lens of a single socio-cultural point: England. This field of study, in its broadest sense, has fascinated me for nearly three decades. Were it not for a medical malady stealing my sight, I would have continued pursuing a career in forensic anthropology. Needless to say, I loved the book.

Broken into several chapters, it focuses on the growth of CSI within the confines of that most heinous of crimes, where the skills are most critical: homicide. For simplicity’s sake, the authors note that the initials of “CSI” are used, even at times when it might be anachronistic because there was no cohesive discipline as such at the time. At no point did I find this to be confusing.

The first chapter looks at the origins of scene investigation in general, particularly within Hans Gross’ 1893 Crime Scene Investigation: A Practical Handbook. I found it intriguing that even this far back, Gross recognized and emphasized the utmost value of trace evidence. Also looked at were the contributions of Edmond Locard, he of the transference principle, to this burgeoning discipline. I love that one of his inspirations was Conan Doyle’s immortal Sherlock Holmes!

The second chapter takes a look at what crime scene processing, or the lack thereof, was like in context of England. Discussed are Howard Vincent’s Police Code and Manual of Criminal Law, first published in 1881, and Alfred Swaine Taylor’s Principles and Practices of Medical Jurisprudence, first published in 1865. Early English focus was on body evidence rather than trace evidence. It wasn’t until the early- to mid-20th century that Gross’ handbook was translated and the principles implemented.

Chapter Three focuses on a hallmark case of English CSI growth, that being the 1924 murder of Emily Kaye. The fourth chapter looks at how this particular case was sensationalized and became fodder for new storytelling, from detective magazine puzzles to news stories to screen portrayal.

Chapter Five covers how the transition of body- to trace-oriented evidence progressed and meshed within English criminalistics and how these first waves of detectives were taught to process for trace. Subsequent chapters look at forensic pathology and at Rillington place, where several bodies were found, making it a good example of synergy between body and trace evidence.

I really enjoyed this book and the history discussed. If you have a more than casual interest in forensics, this is a must-have for your personal library. Why a “more than casual,” you might ask? This book is college-textbook worthy. If one isn’t used to that, it may come across as dense writing. Prospective readers should also be prepared for the graphic crime scene photos scattered throughout. Highly recommended.

Author Ian Burney, Neil Pemberton
Star Count /5
Format Hard
Page Count 248 pages
Publisher John Hopkins University Press
Publish Date 2016-Aug-12
ISBN 9781421420400 Buy this Book
Issue January 2017
Category History


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