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June 8, 2010

Although I’m absolutely squeamish about hospitals, doctors, needles; or even that shade of blue and green they make scrubs out of, I do love a good forensic mystery.

The first forensic mystery I read was for an excellent class at Vassar, called The Archaeology of Death. Professor Anne Pike-Tay taught it in the anthropology department. After we had learned a good amount about skeletons and bones, and the marks a life, and a death, could leave on bones, she had us do a group project reading mystery novels. We were broken into groups, and handed Gideon Oliver mysteries, by Aaron Elkins.

Our project was to use our textbooks, read the mystery, and present a few decisive, clue-revealing scenes, then evaluate whether Gideon Oliver actually could have made those deductions from the bones and the evidence he had, or whether he was grandstanding for the dramatic plot. I loved that assignment, so much. And the class. It not only changed the way I think about anthropology and bodies, but it’s informed my mystery watching and reading since. Always wondering- could you prove that much from the evidence? Or am I willing to take the leap with the author, in service of pushing a dramatic plot forward?

I’ve never had an interest in actual criminology and forensics… not sure I ever want to really know what kind of malice and violence people are capable of. But I do love crime drama, televised, or novelized. I love Kathy Reichs novels, and then the TV series Bones… I keep promising myself to write a good comparison of the book-Bones to the younger, more stilted and strange and simplified, Tempe Brennan. I think the TV writers are trying to make her look stilted, maybe even on the autistic spectrum, which does a disservice to how vital and forthright her narrative voice is in the books.

On TV, I also love N.C.I.S., which applies forensics and routine police work to Marine and Navy related crimes. I love that it combines crime drama with military honor codes, a good sense of humor, and eccentric characters. Most of all, for the character of Abby Sciuto, the Goth forensics tech.

I’m finishing reading a book that explores Sherlock Holmes and the evolution of forensic science, using Sherlock Holmes plots as an anchor for historical anecdotes. Review coming soon, but I guess you could say I’ve got forensics on the brain right now.

What other mystery novels give good forensics, or better yet, good forensic anthropology, with some bones? I love the plot device/recurrent joke in Gideon Oliver novels where he can handle bones of any age, of any gruesome death, with aplomb, but actual dead bodies make him nauseated. I’m pretty much the same way.

No other way to end this than with a clip of Abby Sciuto’s Forensics Speech from NCIS. I’m sorry the quality’s so awful. Turn the sound up, and be inspired by her devotion to truth.  Also, a quick imdb search tells me, the episode’s airing this Sunday afternoon on USA. Go watch it. Or at least the last third or so, to see Abby preaching from the pulpit of her mass spec.

Video here.

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