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.