Fireball XL5

Another blast from my past, a song by Russell Crowe’s ex father in law, Don Spencer (in his younger days) and number 19 on my personal list of “31 songs”.

This TV show theme song was one of the first records my parents bought for me.

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Scared to Live by Stephen Booth

In the seventh of the Cooper and Fry series, DC Ben Cooper is involved in an investigation of the murder of the reclusive Rose Shepherd, who didn’t  legally exist.

Meanwhile, DS Dianne Fry is sent to investigate a fatal house fire that seems to have been deliberately lit, resulting in the deaths of a mother and her two sons.

A hint of international conspiracy also raises its head, but is that possibility a help or a hindrance; and which case does it involve?

Clues are accumulated and investigations hit a few dead ends until eventually the reader is hit by that “wow” or goose bump  moment when disparate pieces of the story start to fit together and the steady build up of information starts to pay off.

The who-dunnit mystery throws up several viable perpetrators, before the final revelations of guilt. The complex and baffling cases are convincingly wrapped up with the questions of who, why and how being answered.

Along the way concerns about mental illness are raised with one suspect displaying erratic behaviour after discontinuing medication, and Cooper’s family has to come to terms with the possibility of there being an hereditary aspect to their mother’s schizophrenia.

It was pleasing to see the difficult relationship Dianne Fry has with Ben Cooper starting to mellow a little. I think the constant friction between them could only go so far without testing my patience if it continued at the same level.

I enjoyed the setting of a lot of this book. A lot of the important events happen a round Matlock Bath. It’s a town I remember visiting at least twice in my childhood and I still have some memories of the town and its topography.

One of the climactic scenes centres on “The Illuminations”, a major light festival in the town featuring a parade of imaginative, light decorated row boats along the river Derwent.

My parents were on holiday in the area when this event was underway around 15 years ago, and as “foreign” tourists were invited to act as judges to determine the best decorated boat.

 

 

Breen and Tozer

There are four books in William Shaw’s Breen and Tozer series.

A Song From Dead LipsA House of Knives, A Book of Scars and Sympathy For the Devil

They cover the last two years of the 1960s, referencing the music, the politics and the significant social changes going on at the time.

It’s the temporal setting that attracted me to the books. It covers my late childhood years, my last years of living in England, and therefore the books have a nostalgic appeal.

DS Cathal Breen meets new recruit WPC Helen Tozer while investigating the murder of a young woman near the Abbey Road studio in London. Breen is a little out of touch with the rapid changes in the world going on around him.

Helen Tozer’s exuberance contrasts with Breen’s conservatism as she pushes against what is expected of a young woman in the Metropolitan police force, a valuable asset giving her access to areas from which Breen, by himself, would be excluded.

Both are trying to put difficult family experiences behind them, but find its not easy to escape the effects of the past, in particular the childhood murder of Tozer’s sister.

Over the course of the series, complications in their relationship increase when their personal and professional lives become increasingly interdependent.

The four titles are standalone books but have common threads linking them together. While each story has a primary investigation, background incidents in one can be revisited in a subsequent book. A minor incident can become a major plot point later.

For me one of the more interesting things in the series was the weaving of real events and real people into the stories. The Biafra war. The Kenyan Mau Mau uprising. The Kroger spy scandal. The death of  Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones. Each play a significant part in one or more books, not only as background colour, but as critical parts of stories.

I’ve now read all of them and would definitely continue with the series if the author chooses to continue with these characters, especially as they move closer to my teenage decade. Should future books be written, portraying the 70s with the kind of evocative details as Shaw did with the 60s, I’ll be a very satisfied reader.

 

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime, by Val McDermid

I do a lot of my reading in my work lunchbreaks.

This book is perhaps not the best lunchtime material: discovering the forensic importance of blowflies and their larvae (maggots) while chewing on last night’s left over Aloo Gobi and rice wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste.

However there are compensations for the inevitable moments of squeamishness. McDermid’s study of various branches of forensic investigation is fascinating.

She takes the reader from early, historical ideas and practices through to present day scientific investigative techniques, with examples given from actual cases.

“The governing principles of forensic science, as laid down by Edmond Locard at the beginning of the last century, is that ‘every contact leaves a trace’. But unless we know how to analyse, categorise and understand those traces, they’re not much use when it comes to catching criminals. As scientists have made new discoveries, so the art of detection has advanced.”

Various different disciplines come into play, through which different “traces” can be examined to determine a course of events associated with a crime, an accident, a natural death or even a war atrocity. Each chapter of Forensics highlights a different field of investigation, starting with the crime or accident scene itself.

Noted evidence can include the presence (and activity) of insects, fingerprints, blood spatter and DNA testable material. Beyond the incident scene, evidence can be examined through various means including autopsies on victims, toxicology tests (to determine the presence and effects of drugs or poisons) and DNA comparisons. Non-biological forensics are also given a couple of chapters, with digital forensics playing a part in finding evidence through computer, phone and CCTV records; while forensic psychology looks into the personalities and possible motivations of potential suspects.

While all of these disciplines have been useful in solving crimes, McDermid also refers to some instances in which forensic evidence has led to questionable results. One example given was a case in which an interpretation of fingerprint evidence led to a wrong conviction, as well as implicating police in career-ending acts of misconduct that were later shown to be unfounded.

While forensic sciences have changed the nature of crime investigation, mostly for the better,  outcomes are always dependent on the experience and expertise of those reviewing and understanding what the forensic evidence means.

McDermid’s book gives an excellent, informative overview of the role of forensic sciences. My interest in the topic came about as a side-track from my recent journey into crime fiction, a diversion related to my occasional detour into true crime cases.

At the risk of using a gratuitously inappropriate metaphor, this book has helped to put some meat on the bones; giving me a better understanding of investigative practices that have been touched upon in other books I’ve read recently.

Catching a Serial Killer interview

When Detective Steve Fulcher arrested Christopher Halliwell for a murder, the taxi driver said there was another body. In an effort to build trust and find the second victim, Fulcher failed to caution him a second time. Christopher Halliwell is now in jail for two murders, and there are potentially more bodies to find. But the man who caught him has been drummed out of the force.

from: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/how-to-catch-a-serial-killer/9236808