The Worlds of R. A. Hortz
An Introduction to Forensic Science
An Introduction to Forensic Science
By Richard Saferstein
Pearson/Prentice Hall, New Jersey (2004)
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - Posted March 7, 2012
The wide spread popularity of television shows such as CSI, Law & Order, NCIS, and Bones have started a virtual explosion of interest in the field of Forensic Science. This interest has been so great that many colleges and universities are starting Forensic Science programs or expanding existing programs. What, however, does this mean for the writer? Nothing less than the discovery of a gold mine filled with plots, characters, and settings that can be used in just about any genre. However, one consequence of the increased interest in the field of forensic science is that you must remember that your audience is likely to be better informed about the technical and scientific aspects of the field than they were ten years ago. This means that if you are going to add forensic science elements to your stories, you need to do your homework first. Watching the existing television shows is not enough - especially since these shows do not always get their facts right - and you do not want to propagate their errors in your own work.
To get you up to speed on the latest in the field of forensic science I highly recommend that you read, Criminalistics:
An Introduction to Forensic Science, by
Richard Saferstein. Saferstein is a leading expert in the field of forensic science and Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science has long been the gold standard of introductory textbooks on this subject. This book is written for both law enforcement personnel and those in the criminal justice system who need to have a basic understanding of the principles of forensic science, as well as for those who will go on to study forensic science in greater depth. Because of the diverse audience for the book, Saferstein chose to write it geared toward non-science majors, and as such he has kept scientific jargon to a minimum and he fully explains all the basic scientific principles necessary to understand the text.
Saferstein's explanations are clear, succinct, and he provides a wealth of examples that will help ensure that you fully understand the scientific and technical principles involved, as well as how forensic science is used as a law enforcement tool from processing a crime scene to how evidence is examined. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction to the topic at hand, and each ends with a chapter summary and a series of review questions that will help you test your knowledge of the material covered. In addition, a short selection of references are included that can be used as a guide for further readings on the subjects covered in each specific chapter. For writers, (as well as students), one of the most interesting features of this book is the inclusion of actual case readings that detail various real-life criminal cases and how forensic science was used to investigate each case.
In addition, the eighth edition of this book comes with a CD-ROM called What Every Law Enforcement Officer Should Know About DNA Evidence - Beginning Level Module. This is basically a short course on DNA evidence that includes a general overview of what DNA evidence is, how it is gathered, and how it is used to prosecute a case. Included are four interactive scenarios where you get to go to a virtual crime scene, listen to witness interviews, and gather evidence. Along the way you are asked to answer questions about the duties of a law enforcement officer at the crime scene and how you are suppose to protect and gather DNA evidence in the four different scenarios, which include a homicide, sexual assault, burglary, and a violent crime.
Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science covers a great deal of material that will prove invaluable to mystery and crime writers, as well as anyone wanting to add some forensic science elements to their story. To give you just a taste of the gold mine of information you will discover in this text, here is a list of some of the topics covered:
Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science is a fascinating book to read, and you will find that the material is presented in easy to understand segments that effortlessly build upon each other. In addition, the text is enhanced by the inclusion of numerous illustrations that help to further explain the material discussed in the text. In short, this book will not only teach you the basics of forensic science, but it will also delineate exactly what forensic science is used for, how it is applied in the field and in the lab, the limits of modern forensic investigative techniques, and how they apply to criminal investigations. Most surprising of all, especially for a textbook, this book was actually exciting to read! There is nothing pedantic about this book. Saferstein's writing is clear, crisp, and well-paced, and the information provided so intriguing that Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science can actually be classed as a real page turner!
- Processing a Crime Scene, which covers the full gamut from securing a crime scene and photographing and sketching it to collecting evidence and maintaining the chain of custody.
- The types and significance of physical evidence.
- Organic and Inorganic analysis of evidence - includes detailed overviews of the equipment and procedures used, including chromatography, spectrophotometry, mass spectrometry, and atomic absorption spectrophotometry.
- The identification, collection, and preservation of hair, fiber, and paint evidence.
- Drugs and forensic toxicology.
- Arson and explosion investigations.
- Serology and blood evidence. Includes stain patterns of blood and characterizations of bloodstains.
- Chapters on DNA and Fingerprints are included.
- Firearms - covers topics such as bullet comparisons, gunshot residue, and tool marks.
- Document and voice examination is also covered, as well as tips on using the internet to learn more about forensic science.
If you are going to use aspects of forensic science in your next novel or short story, try to get your facts right. Doing so will not only add authenticity and authority to your story - but it will also save you from alienating readers who might happen to notice when you get something wrong. Should your story line require it, this book will also prepare you for more advanced reading on topics such as crime scene reconstruction and crime scene analysis, as well as for books on more scientific aspects of forensic science such as forensic anthropology and forensic pathology. Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science is the best and most comprehensive introductory book on Criminalistics that I've come across and I highly recommend it to any writer who wants to add aspects garnered from this exciting field into their writing.
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