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A riveting true crime story that vividly recounts the birth of modern forensics.
At the end of the nineteenth century, serial murderer Joseph Vacher, known and feared as “The Killer of Little Shepherds,” terrorized the French countryside. He eluded authorities for years—until he ran up against prosecutor Emile Fourquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, the era’s most renowned criminologist. The two men—intelligent and bold—typified the Belle Époque, a period of immense scientific achievement and fascination with science’s promise to reveal the secrets of the human condition.
With high drama and stunning detail, Douglas Starr revisits Vacher’s infamous crime wave, interweaving the story of how Lacassagne and his colleagues were developing forensic science as we know it. We see one of the earliest uses of criminal profiling, as Fourquet painstakingly collects eyewitness accounts and constructs a map of Vacher’s crimes. We follow the tense and exciting events leading to the murderer’s arrest. And we witness the twists and turns of the trial, celebrated in its day. In an attempt to disprove Vacher’s defense by reason of insanity, Fourquet recruits Lacassagne, who in the previous decades had revolutionized criminal science by refining the use of blood-spatter evidence, systematizing the autopsy, and doing groundbreaking research in psychology. Lacassagne’s efforts lead to a gripping courtroom denouement.
The Killer of Little Shepherds is an important contribution to the history of criminal justice, impressively researched and thrillingly told.
Simon Winchester recounts the tale of a collaboration that helped bring life to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED): that of the Scottish Professor James Murray, editor of the OED, and one of his most prolific and invaluable volunteer contributors, former U.S. Army surgeon W.C. Minor, who was committed to Broadmoor Hospital, an asylum for the criminally insane, after committing murder in London.
Murray, Minor, and their relationship are fascinating subjects, but in telling their story Winchester also detours onto a variety of other compelling topics, as well, from the unique plight of the Irish soldiers who fought for the Union Army in the U.S. Civil War to the evolution of scientific thinking about and treatment for schizophrenia. All paths in this book eventually lead back to the daunting task of creating the first edition of the OED, and Winchester makes his case for why this achievement is worthy of attention and no little awe.
Solidly narrated, this audiobook is both brief and admirably wide-ranging, a treat for lovers of intellectual history.
"Sherlock Holmes may have been fictional," writes E.J. Wagner, "but what we learn from him is very real. He tell us that science provides not simplistic answers but a rigorous method of formulating questions that may lead to answers." The Science of Sherlock Holmes offers a history of forensic science by focusing on 1) what informed Arthur Conan Doyle's portrayal of Holmes and his method, and 2) how Holmes in turn influenced his real-life descendants. It's not a comprehensive history, but rather a thematic study of advances in various areas of forensics - ballistics, footprints, fingerprints, blood analysis, etc. - with in-depth illustrations from some of the most famous (or infamous) watershed cases in the UK and US (including Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden). For my purposes, wanting to get a better handle on how Holmes was informed by and then informed advances in this field, I found it to be an engaging and satisfying listen.
Having worked in courtrooms for 20 years, I love true & fictional crime. In love with Cross & Davenport. Fictional lawyer stories rule.
M. William Phelps does it again with this true crime book. The narrator is good except when he swallows the last word of a sentence. Sometimes I've had to rewind but now enough to be truly annoyed. So, Phelps and Charles made a good team.