I wanted to do something a little different for this post… Something that may seem a little odd on the Romance Magician’s Blog…
How many authors look at their stories and go “Did I do that murder right?” “Is this how a crime scene really looks?” “What do they look for when looking at the bones?” If you say a handful you would be wrong. Technology is rapidly changing and for a writer that’s the fun part. Researching all of the changes take time, and can cause an author to rip her/his hair out. In the end though, it makes a stronger story. It brings the reader in, so it can be enjoyed. So the reader can live in the author’s world. I have written before about the writer’s toolkit. This time I’m going to write about the Forensics’ toolkit.
In the world of Forensics there are many different paths that one can take. You have a Crime Scene Investigator, a chemist, a Forensic Anthropologist, etc. These are all vastly different paths; however, each one tells their own tale. Each one adds an important part to the story. Each one has their own story.
Years ago I was able, as part of a college class trip, to tour a Naval Criminal Investigative Services facility. Some of the coolest tools in the world reside their. One of the things that stuck out to me the most though, was that one person had one job. They had a person that would interrogate suspects, a person that would analyze items from a crime scene, etc. The Field Agent Afloat for my ship was my instructor. That was the first time that I learned just how important research could be.
Imagine as a reader you know exactly how all of the equipment works, but an author uses the wrong word. You’re stuck on that. You can’t move past it. The writer is supposed to learn, research, and add to their world by knowing yours. Now, imagine you are delving into the ever popular world of Forensic Anthropology. You are competing with the likes of Kathy Reichs, Lee Childs (yes, some of his work touches this), Kay Scarpetta, etc. These are big names to live up to. You want to do it right. First, learn the bones. Yes, all 270, which is how many bones we are born with. The human body loses bones as we age. Why? Because our bones fuse together over time. This makes Osteology extremely important.
Next, learn what all can be done with Forensic Anthropology. It’s an absolutely amazing field! New things are being learned as technology advances. Criminal Profilers, F.B.I. Agents, Forensic Pathologists, etc are all using forms of Forensic Anthropology. As technology advances they can tell you things like how old a person was, whether an injury occurred near death or years before, how tall a person was, long term obesity, potential pregnancy, possible cause of death, and so on.
The general exam can give an overview of time of death, entrance wounds/exit wounds, and general appearance. For a Forensic Anthropologist though, the good stuff begins with bones that have been cleaned. In order to clean the bones they use detergents to clean, by boiling them. I can tell you that you never forget the smell of bones boiling. It sticks with you. Once the bones are clean though, you can see fracture patterns. This can give you an opportunity to look at what might have caused an injury, the force behind it, or the weight applied.
However, even with everything that can be determined from a set of remains… The evidence found is only as good as the first responders are. If they are careful with the crime scene then it will be easier for a review of the remains to be conducted. There’s a thought that we never leave something completely undisturbed. Upon going into a room/site you always take something and leave something behind. The same goes for a crime scene; therefore, it pays to be extra cognizant of this fact. Especially when writing scenes that detail your investigator without putting gloves on. That always makes me want to scream.
Keep in mind that the bones are the roadmap of someone’s life. It pays to respect their roadmap. As a writer that respect is just as important. Surround yourself with tools of the trade like bone manuals. In fact, the Human Bone Manual is one of the most important research manuals that you can purchase.
Now, here’s a little tip. If you want to showcase bones from a war zone in your story, depending upon how long the war’s been going on, your remains might show striations upon the long bones as evidence to malnutrition. Or old healed fractures could showcase a survivor of domestic violence. Human Osteology can even show whether or not someone is who they are believed to be. For example, the famous mafia hit man that suffered a compound fracture of the femur as a child; however, the body being examined doesn’t show such a fracture… Then you might still have a hit man running around somewhere out there.
These are just a few things that can be examined in the course of a murder mystery or suspense thriller. A few aspects of each can even be tossed into other genres, mixed and matched until it’s a perfect storm of suspense and intrigue. While it’s important to tell the story as your characters want it told, it’s even more important to tell it where the readers are swept away by it.
Now, as a parting question. What is your favorite forensic character (any aspect of forensics) and why?