American Sherlock: Murder Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson

*An essential read for fans of true crime.*

Kate Winkler Dawson does a masterful job telling the story of Edward Oscar Heinrich, a man who became one of the first expert witnesses in the courtroom. She has the utmost ability to weave together his biographic information, the research behind many crime scene techniques, and several of Heinrich’s top cases. I enjoyed every page of this fast-paced book.

The 1920s was a time of high crime rates in the United States. Much of these statistics can be blamed on prohibition and the problems that came with the overindulgence of alcohol. Yet, this gave researchers a bevy of incidents in which to study the science of crime. Dawson describes, among other things, the advent of the blood spray analysis, fingerprint work, and the use of the earliest lie detector tests.

A murdered priest, a death on the Stanford campus, and the murder of a flapper at the hands of Hollywood star Fatty Arbuckle are just a few of the cases that the author uses to describe the methods of the criminologist. Hotel room. Bathtub. Sandy beach. Each crime scene holds its own challenges for the methodical mind of Heinrich, but his thoroughness usually held up on cross examination.

From podcasts to streaming documentaries, true crime is definitely hot right now. If you want to go back to the beginning of the art of obtaining evidence, read this book. But the narrative doesn’t stop there. Heinrich is a man who doubted his every move, yet found the strength to be firm in his convictions while sitting on the stand to defend his theories and techniques. I also liked that the crimes all occurred in the Bay Area, a place I am intimately familiar with because I am from the North Bay.

Kudos to Dawson on her exhaustive research at the University of California at Berkeley. I can imagine what it was like to wade through the thousands and thousands of items that Heinrich left behind.

Highly Recommended!

5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you to Edelweiss, Putnam Books, and the author for an advanced copy of the book.

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