Forensics by Val McDermid

Forensics (2015) by Val McDermid is a non-fiction book, and the official companion to the Wellcome Trust’s exhibition with the same name, that runs from January until June, 2015. Because of the theme of this blog, and my PhD, fellow crime fiction academic Mrs.P encouraged me to pay my first visit to London to see the exhibition. After much thinking and planning, I made it to the City a month ago, and what can I say? I fell in love with it.

Forensics by Val McDermid - Review

Reading Forensics has been one of the most pleasurable readings of 2015. I had been trying to get back to my normal reading for some months, and this book played the trick perfectly. Val McDermid has organised the book thematically, so that each chapter is devoted to a different forensic science. You can find anything from DNA profiling to fire scene investigation, and experts back up all the narrative, so that the reading feels well-researched, and accessible at the same time. However, the book is not simply a non-fiction exploration of forensic science, and McDermid’s voice is present throughout the narrative, so that we get glimpses of her own life experience with forensic science. And not only that, but her admiration for forensic experts percolates the pages as well. Sue Black from the University of Dundee is a forensic anthropologist and the person that, during my reading, appreciated the most. I don’t know if it was because the chapter on forensic anthropology hit close to home, or if McDermid herself has a special relationship with Dr. Black, but I know regard her with special fondness.

Now, Forensics – the book – is the companion to the Wellcome Collection exhibition under the same name, currently open at the Wellcome Collection building in Euston Road, London. The book follows the exhibition in its organisation, so that there are five rooms, each devoted to a different stage in the investigation of a crime, from the crime scene itself to the courtroom. I visited it last Friday, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in crime fiction, because the curators have found the perfect combination between science and art, all accessible for the general public. However, there is some sensitive content, so, please make sure you are aware of this before visiting. For crime fiction fans, the exhibition could very well be Heaven, because the Trust has made available original manuscripts from the Jack the Ripper cases, as well as some medical evidence. There are also short videos in which forensic experts explain their roles during a criminal investigation, and artistic recordings of – please, sit down – the first cut performed on a corpse during an autopsy.

So, if you are incurably curious about forensic science, I think you should visit the Forensic exhibition before it closes its door on the 21st of June, 2015. However, do not read Forensics by Val McDermid before your visit. Let the place surprise you, and then you will be able to remember bits, and explore forensic science more in depth if you decide to purchase the book. I made the terrible mistake of studying the book before the visit, and I felt it was just offering me glimpses of the text.


10 thoughts on “Forensics by Val McDermid

  1. Too late for the show, unfortunately, but it sounds like a really good one. I’ve visited a couple of other exhibitions at the Wellcome Institute and they are always well researched and interesting. Nice cafe too!

    1. I rushed there as soon as I got funding, and because I didn’t have much time – I spent 30 hours in London – I mainly ate at their cafe, and I loved it.

  2. Nice to see you back in my in-box; I hope you’re well. I wish I didn’t live so far from London – you miss out on so much – but I’ve got a digital ARC of this and am looking forward to it – in fact, thank you for reminding me I have it! I suspect, though, that as it’s non-fiction I’ll be investing in a hard copy – far easier for reference purposes! Sounds great, as did the exhibition.

    1. Thank you, Linda! Come back when you read it? I want to know what other crime fiction fans think. And I’m pretty confident you’ll be referencing this book a lot 🙂

      1. Yes I think a hard copy would be a good investment – really don’t like non-fiction on a Kindle; no good for browsing later. I’ll definitely pop back after reading – in fact, as I had breakfast a couple of hours ago it’s probably safe to have a look at it now….! :-))

    1. Exactly my thoughts. The exhibition was like walking the book thought. I made the mistake of reading – actually, studying – the book before I went, and it felt a bit too familiar.

  3. It’s a pity the exhibition isn’t touring; London’s not exactly a day out for me and the fact we’re SO London-centric in exhibitions and the best galleries and museums is of major irritation – not least as I think this would be very popular everywhere. At least with crime fiction writers (and fans), students of forensic science, CSI fans (it’s so over, isn’t it? Please tell me it is!) and, er, the odd murderer, or someone considering it…!

    1. It would totally be! I was actually surprised McDermid didn’t take it to her native Scotland, at least for a little time. But I guess this is how the Wellcome Trust works, and their whole building is worth a visit if you can spend a weekend there.

  4. This sounds rather interesting. I would think with the proliferation of crime shows, that the topic of forensics would be quite intriguing to many people. Knowing your love for crime ficiton, I’m happy you had the opportunity to see the exhibit!

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