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.
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.