Catching The Killers: The Definitive History of Criminal Detection

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9780091874100: Catching The Killers: The Definitive History of Criminal Detection

This gripping trail through the history of modern scientific criminal detection focuses on some of the century's most infamous crimes and reveals the developing methods used to solve them.

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Subtitled The Definitive History of Criminal Detection, Catching the Killers is precisely that: a broad, chatty, effervescent, anecdotal, sharp, readable and absorbing biography of global police work in all its forms.

The book, a TV tie-in, is broken up into six sizable chapters, with headings such as "Fingerprints" and "Ballistics". Using these subtitles, Morton dips in and out of history, folklore, jurisprudence and sociopolitics to weave his exuberantly sweeping tapestry. In the "Fingerprints" chapter, for instance, we learn that it was a 19th-century Frenchman, Alphonse Bertillon, who devised this vital bit of identificatory cleverness--after first comparing 80,000 pairs of noses and ears to see if they were sufficiently unique. In the Offender Profiling section, Morton reveals that it was once thought all rapists had "fleshly, swollen and protruding" lips, whereas "swindlers" had "thin and straight" lips. The Surveillance chapter is particularly up to speed, covering modern-day Mancunian drug-busters along with the ethics of FBI undercover work and the difficulties raised by e-mail encryption.

If there is a problem with Catching the Killers, it's with Morton's breadth of perspective. A book that leaps from US Civil War bullet calibres to DNA fingerprinting, from Sir Robert Peel to the OJ Simpson case (complete with gory photos), can't help but be a bit shallow in places, something of an intellectual paddling-pool rather than an educational Lake Superior. That said, who doesn't like a nice paddle now and again?--Sean Thomas

Review:

The gripping, in-depth story of modern criminal detection: the scientific advances, the infamous crimes, and the remarkable methods used to solve some of the world's most difficult cases.

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Morton, James
Published by Random House UK (2001)
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