Sunday 4 March 2018

Guest Review: Cause of Death by Frank Smyth

A slight change from my regular guest reviews of books dealing with the subject of sport or history; we have spilled over into a bit of forensic science now-enjoy!

Review: I first read this book when I started working as a forensic scientist, and now having retired some thirty years later, I decided to re-read it.

Although somewhat outdated, the book gives a broad historical account of forensic science. Each chapter deals with a different cause of death or a different scientific evidence type, and gives the historical perspective before discussing the techniques current at the time of writing. These are illustrated with various case studies. The book details the development of forensic science, not just in the UK but also in Europe and the USA.

The historical aspect of the book is very interesting and informative. However, one criticism I would have is that, although there are illustrations in the book, they are not cross-referenced in the text, making them difficult to follow. In addition, there is some confusion over Britain and England. The author talks about the British Home Office having a system of seven regional forensic science laboratories. However, this was the case for England and Wales only. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own arrangement for forensic science provision. This is one of the areas where the book is now outdated. It was published in 1980, so was probably written at the end of the 1970s, when there were seven regional laboratories in England and Wales. However, in 1979, the Cardiff and Bristol laboratories merged and moved into a new facility in Chepstow, meaning there were six regional laboratories. Furthermore, the Home Office closed the Forensic Science Service, the organisation that ran the laboratories, in 2012 and no longer provides a public service for forensic science in England and Wales. Another drawback of the book is that it was written prior to the introduction of the revolutionary technique of DNA profiling, invented by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys and developed for criminal work by the Forensic Science Service in the late 1980s.

Obviously, some of these comments would not have been valid at the time the book was published, and it still makes for a very interesting read.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

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