Review: Meshel Laurie – CSI Told You Lies

CSI Told You Lies
Meshel Laurie

“CSI Told You Lies is a gripping account of the work of the forensic scientists on the frontline of Australia’s major crime and disaster investigations. They are part of the team at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM), a state-of-the-art facility in Melbourne… Join Meshel Laurie as she goes ‘behind the curtain’ at VIFM, interviewing the Institute’s talented roster of forensic experts about their daily work. Her subjects also include others touched by Australia’s major crime and disaster investigations, including homicide detectives, defense barristers and families of victims as they confront their darkest moments.”

I felt quite conflicted about this book. While I enjoyed some of the history of forensics in Australia, I wasn’t actually that satisfied. I kept pressing through in the hopes that I would get something really interesting from the book (a bit like I did with On a Wing and a Prayer) but I was ultimately disappointed.

Promising me that it’s a book that will give ‘victims a voice through forensics’ makes me think that the forensic scientists will be recreating the picture of what happened when someone died – but not really. It’s not even a complete book of victims who were identified only by forensics – many of the stories are about victims who had already been identified and forensics had very little to do with giving information.

This author may have had an agenda. Later in the book she spends quite a lot of time discussing murders that didn’t need to be solved forensically that are mainly about women who are murdered, the language around their marital status (or job)  and the killers who just needed to kill someone. While I found those stories interesting (and valuable) the forensics involved weren’t key to solving the crime.

The most interesting fact that I learnt was that cruise ships have morgues! That of course then lead me to google it, and it turns out it’s a legal requirement that cruise ships have a morgue (although if they run out of space they put the bodies in a food freezer emptied of icecream).

Reading this sort of book makes me wonder whether I should have gone into a forensics career – and then I realise it’s a lot of anatomy and man, I hate anatomy! I’m going to pass it on to a friend that is also totally into reading about this topic, and hopefully he enjoys it more than I did.

Penguin Random House | 3 August 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Xanthe Mallett – Reasonable Doubt

Reasonable Doubt
Dr Xanthe Mallett

“We all put our faith in the criminal justice system. We trust the professionals: the police, the lawyers, the judges, the expert witnesses. But what happens when the process lets us down and the wrong person ends up in jail? … Exposing false confessions, polices biases, misplaced evidence and dodgy science, Reasonable Doubt is an expert’s account of the murky underbelly of our justice system – and the way it affects us all.”

This book was both interesting and problematic. I wasn’t really sure what to do with the information I learnt beyond that forensic science is really cool! once again, I loved the blood splatter analysis. It reminded me fondly of a blood spatter book I read over 5 years ago.

However, the take homes from these stories are that some of the time (or even most of the time!) DNA or other forensic evidence can be interpretted incorrectly or even damaged during analysis. Something that may seem to put someone safely in jail with irrevoccable guilt, can possibly implicate them when they aren’t actually guilty.

Many of these cases come about where people ignored the evidence at hand. Or, they actually got a confession from someone for doing the murder, but then ignore that to put the person they ‘suspect’ in jail. You’d hope that these days people would be trained better to see how these biases arise, but half the time the expert seems to not be the expert. It’s thought-provoking, but also frustrating.

The acknowledgements bring up some questions about the lawyer cracked up on cocaine being the author’s friend! I read both of Tim Winton-Munro‘s non-fiction works, and while I thougth the first was good, the second was average. Is it just the time when people of that age start writing non-fiction about their lives? What determines who gets a publishing contract. But I digress…

Something cool that I did learn was that people are really bad at recognising people of other ethnic backgrounds. This could otherwise be known as “White people are unconcious assholes”. If you have a witness to a crime and give them a picture of other witnesses they will randomly select someone who looks familiar – regardless of whether they were another bystander or actually the suspect.

There’s lots of dodgy stories where people in positions of authority do idiotic things. I could say everyone should read this book to know what NOT to do if they are ever suspected of homicide. This book needs a tl:dr, since smart people might read the whole thing but it’s not necessarily the smart people that are the problem.

The takeaways I got was that even if you know you are innocent don’t tell them anything! Police will absolutely lie to your face if it gets them the outcome they want. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Let’s just hope that I never end up on the scene of a crime – but then as a Caucasian, blonde hair, blue-eyed slimly built female, I’m probably not going to be a suspect.

Pan Macmillan | 28th July 2020| AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Tim Watson-Munro – A Shrink in the Clink

A Shrink in the Clink
Tim Watson-Munro

Tim Watson-Munro was one of the first psychologists to enter Australian prisons and offer insights into prisoner minds and motivations. Drawn into the dark criminal world, Tim himself fell into cocaine addition before finding his way back out. This non-fiction work provides another exposé of bad minds.

Well, I started off reading this book with avid fascination, and ended up not finishing it due to a sense of reading about exactly the same wrongdoings over and over again. The chapters are titled by the offenses detailed within them, yet the ‘characters’ have so much in common. I feel as if Tim tries to make them appear different, yet so many offenders have the same personality types (psychopath / narcissus) and the same upbringing (low socioeconomic status / abuse).

The writing style of this book is engaging, and an effort has been made to include different formats of text. For example, the Hoddle Street killer started to write poetry that conveyed his feelings while he was performing mass murder. I wonder what the Copyright is on these sort of things! For some reason, reading about some of these murders makes me wish the death penalty was still in place.

I first reviewed Dancing with Demons a year ago, and I haven’t revisited it. I think I’m going to pass these books onto another reader, and see what they make of them. I just feel like these two books do not really offer anything different – read one, but perhaps not both.

Macmillan | 31st July 2018 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Reviews: Tim Watson-Munro – Dancing with Demons

Dancing with Demons
Tim Watson-Munro

Tim became a psychologist in a high security prison early in his career. This set him up well in order to become a renowned psychological criminal profiler. But a job with high visibility leads to a lot of stress, and the associated mental health and addiction problems that eventually caused Tim to fall off the rails – and write this memoir.

It’s scary that a huge number of the people who are criminals stored in prison actually have mental health problems. If those problems could have been caught earlier they probably wouldn’t have the drug habit or the addiction that led to them being put in jail in the first place!

I find it very interesting that the author refers to the jail and spells it in the American form which is JAIL not GAOL. Personally, I always thought this was a stupid way of spelling it! Spell it how it sounds, there ain’t no ‘g’ in there. It’s not a memoir for everyone. It does tackle the author’s drug problem / past drug problem quite in depth which some people could find uncomfortable to read.

This offers a quite an insight into different well-known criminal minds that although Tim has said he hasn’t revealed anything that is not publically available, is very interesting. I think that people who are more familiar with the criminal underworld would probably get even more out of it than I did. I really try to avoid following the news…

I enjoyed it because I’m interested in mental illness. I’m actually feeling quite inspired to go and look at some other statistics in the area for how many mental health problems present in this population. Of course this book documents a time when our jails were very rough and you would hope that they’ve changed by now. The novel allows the reader to look along through the years to an extent, providing some interesting information about the early years of the rehabilitation program.

It is really, really well documented that crims can’t adapt back to society. The minute that you bring them back into society, they can’t deal with freedom and usually find themselves reoffending because they don’t know what to do with themselves. It’s difficult to find jobs, it’s possible they no longer have any family left, and then only the option to survive is to go back to crime. Jail ultimately is more of a cost to the community than the criminals.

The problem is that the majority of people think that locking crims up actually solves the problem. But there are always more people to offend and it’s also well-documented that people have received training in jail from more senior criminals to commit worse crimes. There are exceptions to that of course, including chart molesters & serious people that are actually psychopaths. You can read about a fictional psychopath in Breaking Butterflies.

Pan Macmillan | 27th June 2017 | AU $34.99 | paperback

Review: Mark Tedeschi – Kidnapped

Kidnapped
Mark Tedeschi

This novel covers Australia’s first and only kidnapping to date – Graeme Thorne was kidnapped for ransom because of his parents winning the Opera House Lottery. Unfortunately his kidnapper, Stephen Bradley killed him by accident and the ransom could never be paid. Fortunately, Bradley was eventually caught and sentenced to life for this crime.

kidnapped-the-crime-that-shocked-the-nation-9781925456349_lgSo you might think I have given away the whole novel with my opening paragraph – but in fact, you know all of that information almost from just reading the blurb and reading the first chapter. That alone would have killed the novel for me.

I picked this novel up from someone else’s TBR pile from publishers, because I was getting into crime and was excited to get my hands on some more Australian fiction. I should have known better perhaps. I so wanted to like it though!

This crime was one of the first to be solved using modern forensic techniques, and that alone should have made it more exciting for me. I like to know the science behind things, such as in Blood Secrets. Instead, I’m sorry. I found this novel utterly boring. I finished it only by skimming the last couple of chapters in despair of something truly exciting happening.

I’ve giving this novel 2 stars. Maybe another person who really REALLY loves true crime fiction will love it, but for me, the outcome was known too quickly and there was no sense of suspense to keep me reading.

2star

Simon & Schuster | December 2015 | $32.99 | Paperback

Review: Vikki Petraitis – Forensics

Forensics
Vikki Petraitis

This is a non-fiction expose of some of the forensic techniques Australian Crime Scene Investigators use. It has 7 true life crimes, ranging from a hit-run to an ‘accidental’ stabbing.

ForensicsThis was impressive because Petraitis had obviously done her work well (as she has in her other books, which I now want to get my hands on), and she places the emphasis on the human touch. Humans are fallible, and criminal ones even more so. The book also highlighted the impact on police officers’ family lives in the days after a crime.

There was just a single chapter that annoyed me, and that was the one where it was a series of shorter events. I must preferred when I could ride on the back of a longer case, and feel like I was right there in the action and come to my own conclusions.

Something that came through to me was the shortcomings of the Australian justice system. First, it’s that most of these criminals are really dumb, and yet police officers have to try build an ‘airtight’ case around them. A confession of guilt isn’t enough to actually pin the charge on someone! Half the time they can tell the truth and get out of most of their sentence anyway.

My other complaint is that many people are reoffenders – what does it take to put them behind bars permanently when they will just continue to reoffend? Sexual assault, murder, killing just for the hell of it, they can all get out and do it again.

I picked this up for 50c at a garage sale, and it was totally worth it! It took me around 2 hours to read on, and with the exceptions I have mentioned, it was good. 4 stars from me.

4star

Review: Ann Walmsley – The Prison Book Club

The Prison Book Club
Ann Walmsley

This non-fiction grabber reads like a fictional book. Who could imagine going into a prison in order to read literature with inmates convicted of murder, drug dealing and robbery. That’s what Ann did, somehow getting over her fear of tattooed men who might want to hurt her.

24876660I’ve never really thought about prison settings, not since my review of Peacock Blue, and of course that isn’t a Western prison. This prison is harsh, and grimy, and that’s what makes the transformation of the men within the book club surrounds more profound. They have high, intelligent thinking, despite what they might have done on the outside.

I wished I knew more, or perhaps less, about the affluent book club that Ann is part of in the outside world. I couldn’t imagine the fancy cheeses or anything else being attractive to me. Ann’s standing in the world wasn’t clear to me at all – did she have a day job? Does that actually matter?

I’ve sort of wanted to join a book club, but I think in general I read the wrong genres of novels. I’m not really a high literature or even mostly adult fiction reader. This didn’t go to prove me wrong, but maybe since I am reading more adult fantasy at the moment (Brandon Sanderson, drool), I could get into that. But then again, I have so many other good novels to read…

More could have been made of the benefits of the book club. There were some places for statistics that wouldn’t have gone astray for me. I did like how Ann followed the men outside prison after their release, and how it made her feel more comfortable in her own skin. Insights into her own life were welcome too.

I requested this novel. I was looking for something a bit more ‘meaty’ to read, and this was it. Non-fiction is not usually my thing, but this novel was really great. I’d put it on a book club reading list any day!