CORPSE: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Author . Perseus $25 (270p) ISBN 978-0-7382-0336-2

In 1932, Arthur Koehler helped catch a notorious suspect wanted for the Lindbergh baby murder by tracing a wooden ladder from a sawmill to a lumberyard and finally to the killer—thereby giving rise to forensic botany. By elucidating such rare moments in history, Sachs, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Discover, Parenting and Redbook, examines the often distasteful world of the forensic sciences. And while this first book is a serious scientific investigation, it also manages to bring forensic science (specifically, forensic ecology) into the layman's arena, pursuing what Sachs calls "the postmortem stopwatch"—namely, the means by which investigators can better determine the time of death. Following various forensics experts on investigations, she conducts an intense study of the differences between rigor, livor and algor mortis; the analysis of stomach contents; the discerning tastes of flies; and bodily juices sluiced into soil. The book is sure to please readers interested in the processes of death and decomposition: this is the world of maggot instars and the generational cycles of "Great Sarcophagi." Appearing on the tail of Michael Baden's Dead Reckoning (Forecasts, July 23), the book brings to the fore some familiar characters (entomologist Wayne Lord and Bill Bass of the University of Tennessee's "Body Farm," among others), and in comparison, Sachs doesn't give enough time to the link between the forensic sciences and criminal investigative tactics. While the second half of the book examines practical applications of such methods, readers might not get the sense of what all this forensics hullabaloo amounts to in a court of law—or anywhere else outside of the laboratory. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-465-04485-6
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-7382-0771-1
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