ON DEATH'S BLOODY TRAIL by Brian Marriner

ON DEATH'S BLOODY TRAIL

Murder and the Art of Forensic Science

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Excellent but gruesome history of the meaning of scientific clues in the catching and jailing of murderers. Marriner's surgical style and masterful grip on anecdote are matched by his historical sense of the larger issues in each case he takes up. The author (a British true-crime writer specializing in forensic science) opens with a history of crime in England, from A.D. 1066 (when hanging was abolished in favor of tearing out eyes and testicles) to 1241 (when hanging was reinstated, with drawing and quartering), and on to the publication of the Newgate Calendar in 1774 (a huge bestseller about criminals hung during the year) and to the vast growth of crime following the introduction of gin, with one house in ten in London being a gin shop--and so on up to today. Marriner also gives a history of detection, starting with Poe, Dickens, and Conan Doyle, the rise of the Pinkertons, and the investigation of great early cases, many now unknown. ``Blood is the great bedrock of forensic science, the foundation of murder detection itself,'' he tells us. But it's not fingerprints and bloodstains and the scientific age alone that absorb Marriner; he admires detection, deduction, braininess--and has an eye for failure as well, the case that gets away. Blood is the sign of magic, of a killer attempting to find a better life through death. The murderer ``acts out an ancient and deep-seated magic ritual,'' the author says, and quickly wraps us in blood, his pages a running drain in a slaughterhouse. Then it's on to poison, or ``murder with venom,'' and ballistics, with ``the name on the bullet.'' This glorious abundance overflows in a final chapter on serial and sex killers and how the FBI profiles monsters like Ted Bundy. Not to be missed by true-crime fans--but to be read with rubber gloves.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1993
ISBN: 0-312-08866-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1993