Thursday, September 01, 2011

Thursday extracts: A lesson in forensics – and suspense – from Jeffery Deaver

Crime fiction is one of my little indulgences. I love reading a good murder story, and one of my favourite authors is Jeffery Deaver. He has a number of regular characters but maybe his best known is Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic detective (played by Denzel Washington in the film The Bone Collector). Rhyme is not only a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, who can determine the most obscure facts from the least obvious observations, but he is also a forensics master.

Deaver loves to pass on the how and why of crime science and relates his lectures to the relevant stage in whatever investigation Rhyme is running. In this extract the crime scene technicians have removed a complete door and its frame from a site where a bomb was supposed to have gone off and destroyed all the evidence - except it failed to explode. The detectives assume that the perpetrator would not have bothered to use gloves because he was not expecting the door to survive. They are hoping to lift fingerprints.


Fingerprints fall into one of three categories. Visible (the sort left by a bloody thumb on a white wall), impressible (left in pliable material like plastic explosive), and latent (hidden to the unaided eye). There were dozens of good ways to raise latent prints but one of the best, on metal surfaces, was simply to use store-bought Super Glue, cyanoacrylate. The object would be put in an airtight enclosure with a container f the glue, which would then be heated until it turned gaseous. The vapors would bond with any number of substances left by the finger – amino and lactic acids, glucose, potassium and carbon trioxide – and the resulting reaction created a visible print.

The process could work miracles, raising prints that were completely invisible before.

Except not in this case.

"Nothing," Pulaski said, discouraged, "Only glove smudges."

Jeffery Deaver. The Burning Wire. 2010. Hodder & Stoughton.


snafu said...

Great stuff, forensics has become so important in modern crime fiction. I like Kathy Reichs for her detailed forensics. The Sherlock Hlomes / Miss Marples style of detection would have problems with modern fictional criminals.

Ruth Hartman Berge said...

Hi :) I'm one of your fellow campaigners. You may or may not have heard of Sleuthfest. March, 2012, it's being held in Orlando and guess who's speaking on Saturday? Jeffrey Deaver! Looking forward to the campaign. Love your blog!