Cases: The Science of Solving Crimes
with Thomas W. O'Neil
Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York
Kirk E. Yeager
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Four years ago
I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Henry Lee lecture on forensics
at an international conference where we were both speakers. Five
minutes into his presentation, all I kept thinking was "Thank
God I don't have to follow this act." He was dynamic, funny,
intelligent, and insightful. He held the rapt attention of approximately
600 bomb technicians for well over an hour (not an easy feat). It
was with this experience that I eagerly agreed to review his new
book, Cracking Cases: The Science of Solving Crimes.
the back jacket, notables such as Johnnie Cochran and Alan Dershowitz
tout Dr. Lee's book as a "must read" and the product of
a "master mystery writer." With this high praise, it was
a daunting task to conduct an unbiased review. I enjoyed Cracking
Cases. I felt it was a good book, but not a great book. Perhaps
I was expecting too much. Overall, I felt the book fell slightly
short of what seemed reasonable to expect from a giant in the forensics
basic premise of the book was to provide an overview of the role
forensic science played in the investigation of five major homicide
cases. Each case was presented separately and was divided into five
areas: the facts of the case, investigation, trial, scientific facts,
and a summary. This organization highlighted Dr. Lee's contributions.
All cases revolved around the central theme of spousal abuse, and
throughout the text Dr. Lee took random asides to decry the heinous
nature of the crime, almost to the point of being distracting.
book's organization worked well for the O.J. Simpson and the Woodchipper
murder cases. However, at times the analyses was tedious, such as
five pages describing bloodstain patterns found on the interior
of a van. Especially disappointing were the sections detailing the
scientific facts of each case. The explanations of the science of
DNA matching and bloodstain pattern analysis were murky, even to
someone with only a basic working knowledge of the techniques.
Lee incorporated photographs throughout the text, but they seem
to have little to do with the subject matter. The lack of relevant
illustrations to support the forensic science seemed to be the book's
most notable flaw.
general, only the O.J. Simpson and Woodchipper cases were highly
interesting. The Sherman case had many interesting attributes, but
the Mathison and the MacArthur cases were only mildly interesting.
Those cases seem to have been added because they supported the spousal
abuse theme. With the thousands of cases that Dr. Lee has worked
on, it was surprising that the last two cases survived the final
I feel that Cracking Cases is a good book. For those interested
in the field of forensic science, it will no doubt hold a strong
attraction. I feel, however, if the explanations behind the science
had been developed more fully and the photographs and diagrams had
been more instructive, it could have been a better book. Throughout
the text Dr. Lee reminds us that he is an extremely busy man with
many people in need of his attention and expertise. The fact that
he was able to find time to write a book is amazing, and what he
has delivered is well worth the time to read.
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