For most of human history, sudden and unexpected deaths of a suspicious nature, when they were investigated at all, were examined by lay persons without any formal training. People often got away with murder. Modern forensic investigation originates with Frances Glessner Lee – a pivotal figure in police science.
Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962), born a socialite to a wealthy and influential Chicago family, was never meant to have a career, let alone one steeped in death and depravity. Yet she became the mother of modern forensics and was instrumental in elevating homicide investigation to a scientific discipline.
Frances Glessner Lee learned forensic science under the tutelage of pioneering medical examiner Magrath – he told her about his cases, gave her access to the autopsy room to observe post-mortems and taught her about poisons and patterns of injury. A voracious reader too, Lee acquired and read books on criminology and forensic science – eventually establishing the largest library of legal medicine.
Lee went on to create The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death – a series of dollhouse-sized crime scene dioramas depicting the facts of actual cases in exquisitely detailed miniature – and perhaps the thing she is most famous for. Celebrated by artists, miniaturists and scientists, the Nutshell Studies are a singularly unusual collection. They were first used as a teaching tool in homicide seminars at Harvard Medical School in the 1930s, and then in 1945 the homicide seminar for police detectives that is the longest-running and still the highest-regarded training of its kind in America. Both of which were established by the pioneering Lee.
In 18 Tiny Deaths, Bruce Goldfarb weaves Lee’s remarkable story with the advances in forensics made in her lifetime to tell the tale of the birth of modern forensics.
My day has finally come to share my thoughts on this spectacular non- fiction read! All my thanks go to Anne Cater for the blog spot on this tour, as well as the fantastic publishers Octopus Publishing Group for sending me a copy out to immerse myself into in preparation of the tour. 18 Tiny Deaths is available in hardback today and you can grab a copy here! Bruce Goldfarb’s book 18 Tiny Deaths tells the story of Frances Glessner Lee and the invention of modern forensics. I was immediately drawn to this one, mainly because I’m a forensic science graduate and that in my second year I presented a tiny crime scene while explaining the murder of Meredith Kercher! Just a small fun fact there for you all.
18 Tiny Deaths isn’t only a dive into the personal life of Frances Glessner Lee – we learn about her roots, family and her contribution towards forensic medicine but also we are taken back to the times when autopsies were carried out for business and money, instead of professionalism and finding the true causes behind someone’s death. You could have called it scandalous! Many people stay far away from Non-fiction reads because of the dense information unloading, I didn’t find that with this book, I found that Bruce had tailored it that way – with a key of characters, as well as breaking down the complexity that Forensic Science can be. The chapters are written with the perfect balance of Frances and Forensic details, drawing you into a story about a woman, with whom this branch of science may not have been quite the same. I really enjoyed that, it’s written in a way that keeps the reader engaged and it’ll teach you a thing or two about how far the Forensic field has come.
This book is also about how small replicas of crime scenes started to be used during investigations, known as dioramas, these were used to help examine a scene and it is just absolutely fascinating. Photographs of examples are included within the book, as well as well as profiles of ones in the appendix. This is a book that I’ll be reccomending to all my Forensic / non – fiction loving book friends, it’s clearly superbly researched and written by someone who is passionate about the field as well as the story behind it’s developments. It’s really something special!
Until next time,