Thursday, September 03, 2015

Crime and Science Radio

Dr. Doug Lyle and I usually host Crime and Science Radio, but in September, Hank Phillippi Ryan turns the tables and interviews us!

You'll be able to hear her interview with me on Saturday, 9/5 at 10 AM Pacific and two weeks later, she interviews Doug.  Always fun to spend time with Hank — join us!  

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Holy Cow! A new post coming your way soon.

Yes... I'm starting to catch up with a few things.  See you soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Some Plain Speaking About Forensic DNA and Our Longing for Perfection

People who want the best of all possible criminal justice systems have goals for forensic science. We may understand that they aren't always achievable, but we long for them all the same, and some of us actively work toward them.

We want to feel assured that we are convicting the right person, the one who did it.  

We want the innocent to be freed and exonerated (which are not the same thing). 

We want to correctly identify the deceased, to find some measure of justice for victims, and to prevent those who harmed them from harming others. 

Because we never want to be mistaken in these essentials of justice, we want to believe that our methods of evidence examination are going to deliver the truth. If we have doubts here and there, most of us feel sure that modern science has found at least one method that is perfect: DNA. 

DNA is lauded in this way, and it is not uncommon to hear it spoken of as the "gold standard." I cringe every time I hear that. 

DNA evidence has much to recommend it over many other types of evidence, but it isn't always useful. For example, although most of us want to believe strangers are more dangerous to us than our loved ones, studies have shown that most murder victims knew their killer. This isn't a matter of Homicide Begins at Home barely edging out the Danger From a Stranger competition -- 

From 1993 to 2008, among homicides reported to the FBI for which the victim-offender relationship was known, between 21% and 27% of homicides were committed by strangers and between 73% and 79% were committed by offenders known to the victims.

What does that have to do with DNA? We all leave our DNA (and microbes, and more) in the places where we live. For example, a husband's DNA will be present in the home where he murdered his wife. It would be really odd if his DNA wasn't present. Finding his DNA in the home, on the victim, even on the weapon -- especially if it is an object that has been in the home for a while --  does not prove him guilty of anything but living at his own address, touching his wife, and handling objects that belong to him. Not evidence of a crime.

And despite what you've seen in a television drama, in the unlikely event a complete stranger shoots you, the odds of crime scene investigators finding useful amounts of DNA on anything but a bloody shell casing at the scene (and that the blood is the shooter's, not yours) are not great.

DNA is also (at present, anyway) a relatively expensive form of testing

Ignoring the economics of the criminal justice system is not an option. IMHO we make a tremendous number of utterly asinine, penny wise and pound foolish choices about forensic science budgeting — paying the extremely high costs of continued violence, lengthier and more labor-intensive investigations, wrongful convictions, suffering of victims and families, property damage, public health problems, and other safety issues because we won't properly staff and equip labs, let alone spend much to research forensic science or educate our police, courtroom personnel, and public health workers — but alas, no one has put me in charge of all of that yet. Sadly, there is no line item in a county budget called "all the longterm expense and human misery your dumbass decisions cause" to show how wrongheaded a lab budget cut can be.

Still, costs and limits of applications aside, the forensic use of DNA continues to amaze us, and for good reason. It's a fantastic tool. It has helped us solved cold cases, freed the innocent, helped families learn the fates of missing loved ones, identified kings buried under car parks and given us a feeling of certainty in convictions. 

It is that last that becomes problematic, because we should never forget that human beings work at crime scenes and in laboratories. And human beings make mistakes.

Over the years, as certain vulnerabilities became apparent, forensic scientists have worked hard to institute controls for quality, to ensure that mistakes were prevented or caught, not just in DNA testing, but in other areas of forensic science as well.  But pressures from police and prosecutors, politics within the criminal justice system, budget cutbacks that do not provide the needed level of quality assurance, and other problems can counter those efforts.

If you'll be at the California Crime Writers Conference next month, I'll be talking about this issue and other matters in my forensic science track session, "The Forensic 25." I hope to see you there (Don Johnson and Beatrice Yorker are also be on the conference faculty.)

But if you can't wait or can't make it there, here are a few stories and website links to help you learn more about the ways DNA can go wrong -- or at least, how the humans who work with it go wrong. This isn't, I'm sorry to say, a complete list:

So, as in all human endeavors, striving for perfection in forensic science is admirable -- after all, the consequences have to do with lives and liberty -- provided we remember that humans aren't perfect, and that we remind our city, county, state, and federal legislators that   we must provide what is needed to both remedy and safeguard against errors.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Updating the Site and more

I've been busy.  Writing, real life, and ... I'll bet you've been busy, too.

I've just completed sending in a load of edits on my website to the talented folks at, so you should see a few changes soon.

Doug Lyle and I have been recording some great interviews for Crime and Science Radio.  We'll also be together for a fundraiser for the Friends of the Placentia Public Library on March 7th.  You can buy tickets for the luncheon at the library.  More schedule details here.

Since I know you want a new book, I'll keep this brief.  Thanks for your continued support!


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Africa and Ebola

Does the above look like most of Africa to you?

I'm offering links to two items I really hope you will take a look at.  This will require no more than a few minutes of your time.

1) an easy to view graphic, showing the size of Africa by overlaying the United States, China, and other countries for comparison:

2) this article with a map showing where Ebola outbreaks are — and are not — in Africa.

Perspective is important.

Monday, November 03, 2014


Image result for free vote clipart images

I hope my readers in the U.S. who are eligible to vote will do so tomorrow, November 4.

Please recognize all the sacrifices made on your behalf for the right to vote, a right not shared everywhere, and hard won over the years of this country's existence.

To sit back on election day and let others decide the matter is to hand power over to people whose views are most likely extreme — studies show those on the political far ends of the spectrum are more likely to vote in election years like this one. You of more moderate opinions outnumber them.

No complaints then, if you fail to take this easiest of steps to be heard.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy Halloween — and a couple of recommendations

Hope you all have a happy Halloween tomorrow. (Yes, my parents had the coolest furniture ever.)

I'll be away from the blog for a couple of days. 

If you are looking for a fascinating book to read in this haunted season, I highly recommend Deborah Blum's Ghost Hunters. At the end of the 19th century, and in the face of scorn from other scientists, William James — renowned Harvard professor of psychiatry — and a group of eminent scientists decide to study ghosts, spiritualism, and psychic phenomena in an empirical way. 

This is one of my all-time favorite works of nonfiction.

I also hope you'll listen to Crime and Science Radio on Saturday (10 AM Pacific, 1 PM Eastern, 5 PM GMT) -- our guest is forensic anthropologist Marilyn London.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Coroners and Medical Examiners Keep You Alive: Five Things You Should Know About Death Investigation in the U.S.

"So You Wanna Be A Coroner? Almost Anybody Can!"

That's the title of a humorous -- and informative -- YouTube video by commentator and comedian Eunice Elliot, who is part of the team at WTVM in Birmingham, Alabama.  Her video was inspired by a brief article I wish I could put into the hands of everyone in the U.S. who can read: Leada Gore's "Does it matter if the coroner is a Republican or a Democrat?" at

I have been talking about problems with death investigation for years, mostly over at the Crime Lab Project website --, and I'm not the first (for example, a 1928 National Academy of Sciences report said we should get rid of the coroner system). I'm far from the only one who is concerned.
Here are five things I wish people knew about this subject:

1) In most states, coroners do not need medical training, legal training, or forensic science training. A large number of jurisdictions require no training of any kind.
There is no consistency whatsoever.  In many places, it's a political plum handed out by appointment, in others, an elected position with no other requirements than "18 years of age, resident of the state, registered to vote."
In Indiana, if a veterinarian takes the job of coroner, the Office of the Attorney General has ruled that "A licensed veterinarian is a 'physician' within the meaning of the statute and is entitled to one and one-half times the base salary for a county coroner."

2) Not all medical examiners are doctors, and many medical examiners who are doctors are not trained forensic pathologists.
In Wisconsin, a medical examiner is appointed, a coroner elected. That's the only difference between the two, although some counties have greater restrictions:
In many states, there is no requirement of forensic pathology training. Gynecologists, dentists, general practitioners, and others have served as medical examiners. 

3) The autopsy rate in the U.S. is abysmally low. We really don't know why people are dying.
Autopsies rates in the U.S.A.
Declining autopsy rates affect medicine and public health
More Deaths Go Unchecked as Autopsy Rate Falls to “Miserably Low” Levels

4) The work of coroners and medical examiners keeps you alive. 
Saying coroners and medical examiners work for the dead is a statement of ignorance. (And doubly so for those who add, "The dead don't vote.") The dead don't need anything. The living seek justice on their behalf if they are murdered, but that's also because if someone is running around killing people, the living want to know that. Death certificates help decide how medical research will be funded. They allow families to collect insurance and deal with the estate of the deceased.
Here are just a few additional examples of how their work benefits the living:
Public health -- recognition of health problems and disease outbreaks
Mass disasters -- mass disasters bring about mass fatalities
Safety -- recognizing potentially fatal dangers in the workplace, cribs, toys, amusement parks, in automobiles and elsewhere helps the living
Missing persons -- putting a name to the unidentified dead not only helps the families of the missing, but allows investigators to solve cold cases

5) Death investigation should not be given over to morticians with little or no forensic or medical training, especially if no firm ethics requirements are in place.
Problems arise when there is a conflict of interest and money to be made from the families of the dead. But that's just the beginning. Death investigation cannot be handed off to someone on the basis of having the equipment to do body removal and the stomach handle remains. This is a serious and important matter than affects the justice, safety, and health of living individuals. Certification and accreditation are important, and voters should demand them.
Many homicide, accident, and public health investigations begin when a body is discovered. Someone with training should be on the job.

Further reading:
ProPublica Post-Mortem Series

The Death Quiz

National Academies of Science (2009) Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward  "Chapter 9: Medical Examiner and Coroner Systems: Current and Future Needs" Can be read for free here:

Bureau of Justice Statistics (2007) Special Report:

Eighteen on Audio

I'm so happy about this review in Mystery Scene Magazine for the audio edition of Eighteen, from Brilliance!

You can buy this edition from Audible, AudioBookstand, Amazon, and Indie Bound -- and other audible book dealers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spot the Station

I never fail to feel a deep sense of wonder on those nights when, for a few minutes, I have the good fortune to see the International Space Station passing overhead. Good fortune and advanced notification from NASA. Perspective changes, thinking of the crew high above.

If you would like to see the ISS, visit NASA's Spot the Station page and sign up to receive text notifications when the station's journey makes it visible in the part the world where you live. The site includes instructions that will help you understand the locating information in each text.

Look for a bright object arcing across the sky, moving fast. You don't need a telescope or any other aid to see it. If you have a compass or know where north, east, south and west are, you'll be able to figure it out. The site will tell you everything else you need to know.

Image above from and is used courtesy of NASA.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bouchercon 2014 Schedule

Bouchercon is the largest of the crime fiction fan conventions, and this year it is being held in Long Beach, California. I hope you'll plan to attend! Click here for information on registration, accommodations, programming and more.

November 12 
I'm starting that week as the coordinator of Sisters in Crime's SinC into Great Writing workshop, which this year is an all-day forensic science program that is available for $50 for members of the organization.  If you aren't a member, join for $40 and you'll still get a great deal. I posted about the event here and will have more to say about the event this week.

Here are the panels I'll be on:
November 15
On Saturday at 1:30 PM, "Getting it Right: How Authors Make Sure the Details Are Correct."
The moderator is Chris Aldrich and other panelists are Reed Farrel Coleman, Julia Dahl, Roger Hobbs, and Tammy Kaehler.

November 16
On Sunday at 10:00 AM "Do You Write What You Know? A Conversation About Research and Thinking Beyond the Everyday." Our moderator is Janet Rudolph and other panelists are Barry Eisler,  Laurie R. King, and Elaine Viets.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I'm Reading

Tim and I read together (and separately as well). We just finished Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, which we have read many times before. I never grow tired of it, even if there is always that point when I want Marianne to get over herself sooner than she does.

The books still in progress are appropriate for this haunted month.

We haven't read Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October as many times as Sense and Sensibility. I think this is our third or fourth time through it. We are better able to appreciate his skill with each reading. The humor still makes us laugh, the unsettling still unsettles, the anticipation of the next chapter remains. We notice something about the way it builds, the masterful hand at work. Like many other readers, we tackle it one chapter each night through the month.

New to us, but completely captivating and beautifully written is Peter V Brett's The Warded Man (first published in the U.K., as The Painted Man). This is the first book in the Demon Cycle Series.
I am grateful to my friend and talented author Lia Matera, who recommended The Warded Man so enthusiastically, I had to give it a try. Lia's brilliant. Give her books a try, too.

The lovely photo above was found on Morguefile, and is the work of GaborfromHungary, who kindly gave me permission to use it here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Real Life Cases: Learn More About Cold Cases

The National Institute of Justice is offering a free two-day online seminar through the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence.

"The Science, Law and Politics of Cold Case Investigations on October 30-31 in order to answer critical questions about cold cases and what it takes to resolve them."

The course is free and open to all.  Here's a link to learn more about the program:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Only 12 spaces left in SinC Into Great Writing, and they're going fast

Register online before Halloween for Sisters in Crime’s day with forensic science experts, a homicide detective, a cadaver dog handler, and an arson investigator – to be held just before Bouchercon, on Wednesday, November 12!

Hear from outstanding professionals on processing crime scenes, trace evidence, medical serial killers, cadaver dogs, homicide investigation, and arson investigation. Try your hand at going over a crime scene. All of our experts have experience in the fields they’ll be talking about. You don’t need a science background — just an interest in how scientists and investigators do their work!

Sisters in Crime is sponsoring this all-day forensic science workshop for its members on the day before Bouchercon.  You’ll not only hear from these outstanding experts, you’ll have opportunities to ask questions, learn how to get more information, and get tips on use forensic science research in your writing. A box lunch is included.  An all-day forensic science seminar, including a box lunch, for $50.00! The event will be held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Long Beach.

Register on the Sisters in Crime Website.
Sign in as a member, then click on the SinC Into Great Writing VI link, then on “Workshop Registration” just below the title of the event. (Not a member? Join! See the website to learn all about the benefits of membership.)

Here’s what we have planned:

7:30 - 8:00 am:     Registration

8:00 - 8:10 am:     Welcome and introduction by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Logistics announcements by Jan Burke

8:10 - 9:00 am:   Crime Scene Processing with Donald Johnson
Don Johnson is a professor of forensic science at CSULA and director of the criminalistics program there. 

9:00 - 9:50 am:    Medical Serial Killers with Beatrice Crofts Yorker
Internationally recognized expert on medical killers, Bea Yorker is the Dean of of the College of Health and Human Services for CSULA, of which the university's forensic science programs are a part.

9:50 - 10:05 am:  Break

10:05 - 10:55 am:  Trace Evidence with Katherine Roberts. 
Like our other experts from CSULA, Dr. Roberts is an extraordinary forensic science researcher with practical experience. She will tell us all about the latest breakthroughs in trace evidence, and what can be learned from it. She is the interim director of the California Forensic Science Institute.

10:55 - 11:25 am:  Question and Answer Session for morning speakers
11:25 - 11:55 am: Lunch Break (box lunch provided)

11:55 - 12:40 pm:  Hands On Death Investigation: "Two dead at scene."
You are the trainee detective called out to investigate a double murder.  Be on time! Be prepared! Bring your notepad and pen!  Veteran LASD Homicide Detective Elizabeth Smith will provide an interactive experience for you in crime scene investigation.

12:40 - 1:30 pm:  Working with Dogs to Find Human Remains 
Cat Warren is a cadaver dog handler and the author of a fascinating book on working dogs, What the Dog Knows.  

1:30 - 1:45 pm:     Afternoon break fruit/sodas/coffee/tea provided

1:45 - 2:35 pm:  Arson Investigation 
Bob Cheng, Captain of the Arson Investigation Unit of the Long Beach Fire Department, will talk to us about the science of fire investigation.

2:35 - 3:15 pm:    Question and Answer Session for afternoon speakers

3:15-3:30 pm Break 

3:30-4:30 What Writers Need to Know about Forensic Science and How to Learn More About It 
This will be an interactive session. Jan Burke will talk to you about both the benefits of using forensic science in your writing and some pitfalls to avoid. She’ll tell you how to research forensic science and spend time answering your questions.  She’ll also be available after the event to offer you further help. 

Yep, I missed a day. So two today.

I had a long day on Sunday. A good day, but a long one.
About eight hours of traveling or being in airports.
So yeah, no post. But there will be a long one a little later.

Thanks for your patience!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Brief Saturday Evening Post

I want to thank all of you who sent suggestions for improving the new  sidebar. I will be incorporating them over the coming week. 

Meanwhile, what am I reading?

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.
 "...his will was read, and like almost every other will, gave as much disappointment as pleasure."

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dennis Palumbo on Crime and Science Radio

Doug Lyle and I interview therapist Dennis Palumbo on Crime and Science Radio on Saturday, 10/18.  Details here:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

As I Prepare to Do A Little Traveling

I spent today trying to catch up on a lot of errands and knocking stuff off of the To-Do list.

Picking up the shoes from the shoe repair place might have to wait, but at least the sidebar for this blog is cleaner.

Feel free to let me know if you think there is some other question I should answer under "In case you wondered," to your right.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Justice Done

Justice Done

This is the newest of my series of six ebooks.  Justice Done includes four stories and is only $1.99.

You can purchase and download it here or buy it from your favorite e-bookseller.

The stories are: 

The Quarry
Two Bits
An Unsuspected Condition of the Heart

"The Quarry" is a new story about Bunny Slye, a character you met in my story in A Study in Sherlock.
I fell in love with World War I veteran Boniface Slye and his friends Dr. Max Tyndale and Aloysius Hanslow, and their world of the 1920s. I hope you'll enjoy watching them work together to solve the murder of the owner of an abandoned quarry, a neighbor for whom Bunny has no love.

The last three are reprinted from Eighteen, a collection of my first eighteen short stories.

"Miscalculation" takes place on the Queen Mary. The story has lots of true statistics about the ship and information about its history woven into it, and the key to the mystery is based on a little known fact about its wartime use during World War II.

"Two Bits" was nominated for an Anthony for Best Short Story. Writing it gave me a chance to solve a historical crime — the most infamous kidnapping in American history prior to the Charles Lindbergh, Jr. case — to my own satisfaction by using it as the inspiration for this one.

"An Unsuspected Condition of the Heart" is set in the Regency period in England. I'm hoping it will make you laugh and feel a little unsettled all at the same time. I love reading Georgette Heyer, and while I don't pretend to possess her wit, I loved being able to give a nod of appreciation in her direction.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Two November Notes

The event I mentioned yesterday has changed its name.  It is now the Veterans Benefit Book Fair.  You can learn more about it here:

On the Wednesday before Bouchercon, Sisters in Crime is sponsoring SinC into Great Writing VI, an all-day program about forensic science and crime scene investigation at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Long Beach.  I hope members of the organization will take a look at our terrific lineup.  It's only $50, includes a box lunch, and a program that will allow you to talk to leading experts and professionals in their fields.  Please let me know if you have questions about the event.
More information and a link to online registration (which closes on 10/31/14) can be found here:

I'll be describing this event in great detail over the next two weeks.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Come to the Military Book Fair!

Today I drove to San Diego to meet with family and friends, and to drop off a donation of books for the upcoming Military Book Fair.  I hope you'll be able to join me for this event, which will be held on the U.S.S. Midway Museum on 

Saturday, November 8th 9:00-5:00 PM

Get full details here:

Admission: free with admission to the U.S.S. Midway Museum, which is $10 for San Diegans, and $20 or less for others. See this site for the ticket prices (and buy tickets online and save:) 

I'll be on a panel at 10:00 AM with J.T. Ellison, T. Jefferson Parker, Charles Todd, Bob Hamer, and Andrew Peterson. Our Panel Master is W. Craig Reed.

Iris Johansen, Catherine Coulter, James Rollins, Dale Brown, Ted Bell, Grant Blackwood, D.P. Lyle, and Andrew Kaplan are among the many other authors who will be there, along with some amazing veterans, Navy Seals and Marines.

You can help veterans, meet some of your favorite authors, and more! Plus, you get to tour the Midway Museum

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Real Life Cases: Help Solve A 1983 Homicide By Helping Phoenix Police Identify The Victim

Did someone resembling this woman disappear from your life in 1983? In August of that year, witnesses discovered this woman's body by a canal access road near the 4300 block of East Williams Field Road in Phoenix.  She is believed to be a Native American, Caucasian or Hispanic woman, approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall, and she weighed 142 pounds. She had brown eyes and curly, shoulder length brown hair. The woman had extensive dental work and a lower front teeth bridge implant.

Please spread the word.  Her case is part of a series in the Arizona Republic Newspaper, which has teamed up with the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office to help solve cases involving the unidentifed. You can find more information here: 

Report information to 602-534-2121 and ask to speak with Detective Stuart Somershoe.  Anonymous Tips can be made by calling Silent Witness at 480-948-6377.

Medical examiner and NamUs case number 83-1480.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Saturday Evening Post: Why I Love Reading: Zelanzy's Night in the Lonesome October

A Night in the Lonesome October

The man had a strange way of regarding one's face, one's clothing, one's boots; and of listening.

As a watchdog, I could appreciate the mode of total attentiveness he assumed. It was not a normal human attitude.  It was as if his entire being were concentrated in the moment, sensitive to every scrap of intelligence our encounter furnished.  

Snuff, a character in Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October, describing a meeting with the Great Detective. 

A fine, concise description of Sherlock Holmes, wouldn't you say? If it is Holmes. (Of course it is.)

Snuff is a watchdog. And more. As he tells us from the beginning:

I like being a watchdog better than what I was before [Jack] summoned me and gave me this job.

You'll have to read the book to figure out who Jack is, but I believe Zelzany's to be one of the freshest approaches to that legend, too.

My husband and I reread this book, a chapter each night, throughout this month. Max Gladstone wrote a fine appreciative post about it here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Convicted: new short story ebook includes an Irene Kelly story

ConvictedFor those of you who want to read more about Irene Kelly, "The Anchorwoman," a new short story about her, is out today in Convicted. It's one of four stories in the ebook collection, which costs $1.99.

In "The Anchorwoman," Irene is a journalism student who hears a comically strange story from someone she knew in high school — a story that Irene comes to believe is no laughing matter.

The collection also includes "Revised Endings," "The Muse," and "Devotion." "Devotion" features Frank Harriman, Ben Sheridan, and Bingle.

For ordering information, click here to go to

Sunday, March 30, 2014

All Kinds of News! 3 Stories and 2 Events

Until April 14, 2014, you can read Caught Red-Handed for free! 
Pocket Books is offering the opportunity to read this ebook, which contains a new short story about Frank Harriman, for free on their XOXO After Dark site for a limited time.  Click here to read more about the book and to read it free.
Apprehended, the next ebook in this series, is now available for $1.99.  Apprehended includes "The Unacknowledged," a new Irene Kelly short story.  Click here to learn more about it!

Another new short story, "Stepping Into the Dead Zone," appears in Games Creatures Play, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner will be available on April 1. This anthology brings the supernatural together with games and sports. I chose Dodgeball. I will be blogging soon about this story. 

I'll be participating in the North Carolina Literary Festival.
First, on Friday, April 4 at 8:00 PM, I'll be one of the storytellers at The Monti. The other storytellers  include R.L. Stine, Davey Wreden, Jami Attenberg, and Karen Fowler.Visit the site to learn more and purchase a ticket ($15).

Then, on Saturday, April 5 at 12:15 PM, at I'll join Cat Warren, Deborah Blum, and Lisa Mayhew for the Forensics Panel at the North Carolina Literary Festival. Visit this site for more information and to see what else is happening at the festival.  This event is free and open to the public. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New ebook out next week: Apprehended includes a new Irene Kelly story!

Apprehended, a new ebook containing four short stories, will be available for $1.99 starting on  
St. Patrick's Day: March 17, 2014!

Apprehended includes four short stories.  One of them, "The Unacknowledged," a brand new short story featuring Irene Kelly as a young journalism student learning the ropes from Jack Corrigan.  You may remember Corrigan from Bloodlines.  

I think you'll enjoy seeing Irene at this early stage of her career!

You can learn more about the ebook on Simon & Schuster's Website, and see options for ordering it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Places I'll be, things you can read, good stuff to listen to

Having enjoyed my weekend with the Baker Street Irregulars and Forensic Fest with Orange County Sisters in Crime, I thought I'd let you know some of the places I'll be over the next few months.  More will be added as details are confirmed!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Left Coast Crime 2014 Writing Workshop (I'm teaching with Jerrilyn Farmer)
Portola Hotel & Spa
Two Portola Plaza
Monterey, CA 93940

(Please note that space is limited -- register now!)

March 20-23, 2014
Portola Hotel & Spa
Two Portola Plaza
Monterey, CA 93940

Saturday, March 29, 2014, 8:45 AM to 4:00 PM
Huntington Beach Hotel  (near Bella Terra Shopping Center)
7667 Center Avenue
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

April, 2014
North Carolina Literary Festival – more information soon!

June 6-7, 2014
Hilton Garden Inn, Baltimore/Arundel Mills
7491 New Ridge Rd
Hanover, MD 21076

July 8-12, 2014
Grand Hyatt New York
109 E 42nd Street (at Grand Central Terminal)
New York, NY 10017

November 13-16, 2014
Hyatt Regency Long Beach
200 S Pine Ave
Long Beach, CA 90802

And if you haven't already ordered my new ebooks, such as Caught Red-Handed, available now, remember that you get four stories for $1.99, including a new story about Frank Harriman in this first book, and a new one about Irene Kelly in Apprehended. (Apprehended will be available March 17, but can be preordered now.)

Finally, I hope you've visited Crime and Science Radio's site and listened to the ten shows we've already posted there.  You can listen to them free a number of ways: from the site, on BlogTalkRadio, from Suspense Magazine's site, or via iTunes (under podcasts, use the search term "Crime and Science Radio Suspense" and the free download options will come appear).  

To name a few of the interviews you'll find there: Marcia Clark on legal matters; Leslie S. Klinger on Sherlock Holmes and Forensic Science; Deborah Blum on The Poisoner's Handbook, Cat Warren on What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs; David Corbett on being a private eye; Katherine Ramsland on The Devil's Dozen, the psychology of serial killers; Jefferson Bass, aka Dr. William Bass and Jon Jefferson, on forensic anthropology; and next weekend, Dean Giamalas, director of the crime lab for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.  We also post additional links for further information.

I've loved doing this show with DP Lyle, MD and Suspense Magazine Radio.  I hope you'll give it a try!  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Caught Red-Handed Is Available Now!

I'm excited to announce that the first of a new series of ebooks is out now!

Caught Red-Handed is only $1.99 from most sellers of ebooks and is available for Amazon Kindles, Nooks, iPads and iPhones, and other devices.  You can order it here or from any ebook retailer.

This collection of four short stories includes "The Privileged," a brand-new short story, and three stories from Eighteen. ("The Loveseat," "Ghost of a Chance," and "White Trash.")

"The Privileged" is set in Bakersfield, California, where Frank Harriman is a rookie officer, about to answer his first "bad smell from a trailer" call with his training officer.  Some of you will remember the training officer, Bear — who introduced Frank to Irene — from Hocus.

It's a chance to see Frank as a young officer just out of the academy, learning the ropes, dealing with department politics and unexpected situations.  You'll learn a little more about him, and how he became the man you know from the Irene Kelly series.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Corona Library Today!

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Puddin'head Wilson.  Just tied up with writing the next book and work for Crime & Science Radio.

Today I'll have my last public appearance for the year (and most of the beginning of 2014).  I'll be at the Corona Public Library at 2 PM.

Here's the address:
650 S. Main St, Corona, CA 

I'll be in the High Desert Room.

See you there!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mark Twain and Fingerprints, part 2

How did Mark Twain learn about fingerprints almost a decade before Sir Francis Galton’s Finger Prints was published in 1892?

As far as I can tell, the answer is, no one knows for sure.  Let’s look at a few of the possibilities.

First, some general background on the history of criminal identification.

Throughout the 19th century, police departments were established and methods of catching criminals became more formalized.  (You can learn more about this by listening to my interview with Leslie S. Klinger for Crime and Science Radio.) Science and technology were used in ways they had never been used before to aid authorities in determining what had happened at crime scenes, the evaluation of evidence, and the identification of criminals.

At the beginning of these changes is Eugène François Vidocq (1775-1857), one of the most colorful and fascinating characters in the history of law enforcement.  Vidocq was a former criminal who established the French Sûreté Nationale, and began the first systematic efforts to identify criminals and keep records on them.  Vidocq pioneered so many new methods of understanding and apprehending criminals — including describing modus operandi, using the science of ballistics, taking footwear impressions with plaster casts, establishing the first private detective agency, doing undercover work and more — he is considered to be the father of modern criminology.  His autobiography was widely read, and his life served as an inspiration for characters in works by Balzac (Pere Goriot), Hugo (Les Miserables), and Dickens (Great Expectations) and his work was lauded by Poe and Melville.  

Unfortunately, Vidocq’s card system of known criminals depended in large part on Vidocq’s own remarkable memory.  It became unmanageable once he was no longer part of the Sûreté.  The task of reorganizing the files eventually fell to Alphonse Bertillion (1853-1914) — there were over five million of them when he was given the assignment.

Bertillon's self-portrait as a mugshot, 1900. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was first published outside the United States (and not published in the U.S. within 30 days) and it was first published before 1978 without complying with U.S. copyright formalities or after 1978 without copyright notice and it was in the public domain in its home country on the URAA date (January 1, 1996 for most countries).

He improved the "mug shot" — taking the work away from commercial photographers who often failed to capture useful images and implementing a standardized way to photograph arrestees and record information about them.  He also standardized and improved methods of crime scene photography.  What he is most famous for, however, is the biometric system that bears his name, Bertillionage.

Bertillion's father was a statistician and anthropologist, and a colleague of Belgian mathematician and social statistician Lambert Quetelet. Quetelet had calculated that the chances against two people being the same height were four to one. Bertillion reasoned that adding precise, additional measurements would bring the likelihood of two people having those same measurements into the neighborhood of 1 in 4,000,000.  A filing system based on those measurements would make it easier to locate information on criminals who matched them.

Although his ideas were initially rejected by the chief of police, he was eventually given a chance to prove them, and did so very successfully, identifying hundreds of arrestees who gave aliases with previous records.  By 1884, his system was adopted throughout the French prison system. Soon his system was quickly adopted in much of Europe and the U.S. (England was a holdout).  

As you can see from the illustration below, found in Identification Anthropométrique, his 1893 book on his method, these many measurements required a lot of precise work by the measurer and a degree of cooperation from the arrestee that might be difficult to obtain.

Frontisepiece from Alphonse Bertillon's ''Identification anthropométrique'' (1893), demonstrating the measurements one takes for his anthropometric identification system. Category:Anthropometry.  This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was first published outside the United States (and not published in the U.S. within 30 days) and it was first published before 1978 without complying with U.S. copyright formalities or after 1978 without copyright notice and it was in the public domain in its home country on the URAA date (January 1, 1996 for most countries).

This was the state of criminal identification at about the time Twain wrote "A Thumb-Print."  

Fingerprints however, were not unknown.

I mentioned a few ancient references in yesterday's post.

In more recent times, fingerprints had been observed and written about by Europeans in the late 17the century.  In 1684, Dr. Nehemiah Grew published a paper on these friction ridges in the proceedings of the Royal Society of London. An anatomy professor at the University of Bologna, Marcello Malpighi wrote a treatise in 1686, and noted fingerprint ridges, spirals and loops.  Neither Grew nor Malpighi — nor any others making similar observations — spoke of the individuality or unchanging nature of fingerprints, and no one had yet suggested their use for identification.

In 1858, a British magistrate in India, Sir William James Herschel (1833-1917), began requiring handprints on contracts, but did not do so based on any scientific study — he was essentially relying on local superstitious beliefs about leaving one's handprint on a piece of paper.  As his collection grew, though, he became convinced that fingerprints were unique and permanent.  

To my mind, one of the most interesting possibilities of a source for Twain's interest is French, in part because in his story his narrator credits a French prison keeper for telling him about thumbprints. 

As noted by fingerprint expert Ed German on his website, in 1863, "Professor Paul-Jean Coulier, of Val-de-Grâce in Paris, published his observations that (latent) fingerprints can be developed on paper by iodine fuming, explains how to preserve (fix) such developed impressions and mentions the potential for identifying suspects' fingerprints by use of a magnifying glass."

Twain spoke French — although he joked about his abilities

In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.

The Innocents Abroad

— he translated The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County into French.

Another possible source of information was published in Nature  in 1880, closer to the time of the publication of Life on the Mississippi.  

Dr. Henry Faulds, the British Surgeon-Superintendent of Tsukiji Hospital in Tokyo, had noticed fingerprint marks on ancient Japanese pottery and began to study them.  He sent notes to Charles Darwin about fingerprints, who passed them on to his cousin, Francis Galton, who, perhaps distracted by his own many scientific pursuits, passed the letter on to the Royal Anthropological Society and apparently (and unfortunately) forgot about it.

 In 1880, Faulds published a paper in Nature suggesting that fingerprints could be used to catch criminals and a means by which this could be done — and included a few ideas that were less scientific, such as the possibility of determining race through a fingerprint.*  

Not long after this article appeared, a letter from Herschel appeared in the same publication, telling of his use of fingerprints in place of  signatures for over twenty years, and politely doubting the ability to use them to determine race.

In 1886, three years after the publication of Twain's tale and during a time when Bertillonage was making headlines, Faulds offered his system to Scotland Yard, which turned him down.  Two years later, delivering a paper before the Royal Society on fingerprints, Galton erroneously credited Herschel as being prior Faulds in suggesting the forensic use of fingerprints.  This led to a bitter controversy which still finds various partisans slugging it out verbally.

There is one more possible source of information for Twain.  In 1877, Thomas Taylor (1820–1910), a microscopist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gave a lecture concerning prints and their possible applications concerning crime. Taylor proposed the idea of using bloody prints found at crime scenes as a means to identify suspects. The lecture was published in the July 1877 issue of The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science (Ashbaugh, 1999, p 26).  An important lecture, though you'll seldom find mention of this in histories of fingerprinting, and whether Twain knew of the lecture or the journal is unknown.

Well...I haven't gotten to Puddin'Head Wilson yet, so we'll go for part 3!

*There are those who are now researching methods which would supply phenotypes and other information about an individual from the oils left behind with a fingerprint, but this is not, of course, what Faulds envisioned.

Some additional links
Jim Fisher's excellent article about Bertillion.
The NCJRS's publication on fingerprinting includes a wonderful history section.