TOP RESEARCH BOOKS FOR CRIME WRITERS
– A VERY PARTIAL LIST
Guest Post by Carole Lawrence,
author of Cleopatra’s Dagger
There are so many wonderful source books for mystery writers these days that it almost feels criminal to narrow the list down to five, so these are just a few of my favorites.
Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques (Third Edition)
Vernon J. Geberth.
The author, a former Lieutenant-Commander with the NYPD, brings his vast knowledge to this thorough, comprehensive and scholarly work. It boasts a wonderfully complete table of contents, index, glossary, and bibliography. It also includes graphs, photographs, case histories and information on how to maintain crime scene integrity in different situations, as well as useful lists such as what goes into a crime kit, various search methods, and much more. If I were forced to choose just one book on forensics, it would probably be this one.
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum uses crime cases from New York’s Jazz Age to investigate the history and progression of forensic science in the Roaring Twenties. Focusing on Bellevue’s toxicology lab, Blum tackles not only poisoners but politicians and greedy corporate barons, as well as Prohibition itself. The chemistry is illuminating but never overwhelming, and her lively, witty writing style is a welcome palette cleanser. After reading more technical tomes, you will enjoy the narrative thread of this book—which, while very informative, reads more like a nonfiction novel than a textbook.
The Criminal Mind: A Writer's Guide to Forensic Psychology
Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.
Written by one of the most highly respected and prolific forensic psychologists writing today, this is a fascinating deep dive into the disturbed minds of criminals. Ramsland is the author of numerous books, including another of my favorites, The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators Among Us, which she co-authored with renowned FBI profiler Gregg McCrary. This book is geared toward crime writers, which is why I chose it for this list.
D.P. Lyle, M.D.
A major presence in both the forensics and crime writing worlds, Dr. Lyle is a long time member of Mystery Writers of America, and authors a column on forensics in their monthly newsletter, The Third Degree. I never miss reading it. He has served as consultant to a number of TV shows such as Monk, Law & Order, House, and CSI: Miami. In this useful and engaging book, he uses historical cases to illustrate various aspects of criminal investigation, ranging from such diverse topics as crime scene reconstruction to the bite mark evidence used to convict serial killer Ted Bundy. Lyle is also the author of several crime novels, as well as the intriguingly titled Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers (the next book on my TBR list).
Scene of the Crime: A Writer's Guide to Crime Scene Investigations
Anne Wingate, Ph.D.
A compact, useful book that serves as an introduction to many aspects of crime scene investigation. Targeted to the writer, it includes lively descriptions of real cases, along with useful photographs of fingerprints and other visuals such as dental charts, crime scene mapping and more. Especially useful are the sections on what various experts can and cannot do. Though it was published in 1992, I continue to find it a useful and solid source book.
For every book on this list, there are three or four excellent ones I was forced to leave out. Stay tuned—maybe I will do a second posting at another time. Meanwhile, happy sleuthing!