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True Crime Book Club - Past Titles: April 2023

Trigger Warning: Take a look through our previous titles from our True Crime Book Club.

"Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime" by Val McDermid

  1. Did you find this book interesting? Why or why not?
  2. Do you feel you can better understand the science behind the other books we’ve read now?
  3. Was there anything in this book that disturbed you? It wasn’t as gory as our normal books, so was it easier to read?
  4. Do you think all crime labs should have similar testing? What happens if labs differ in their tests?
  5. The use of familial DNA testing is discussed (like in our previous book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark). What do you think of using familial DNA matches to solve crimes? What if there were stipulations on its usage (like only for rapes and murders in the UK)?
  6. How would you feel if you didn't have answers to a loved one’s death? Is it better to have answers from a forensics standpoint? Or justice from a criminal standpoint?
  7. Of all the different types of forensics in the book, was there one you found yourself wanting to know more about? Why or why not?
  8. There is one quote in the book that says, “What we know today is sometimes very different from what we knew yesterday” (pg. 271). What effects do you think this might have on a jury? If forensic science is so fluid that it can change from one moment to the next, is it a worthwhile use of time, money, and scientific research?
  9.  Another quote says, “Jurors do not need psychiatrists to tell them how ordinary folk who are not suffering from any mental illness are likely to react to the stresses and strains of life” (pg. 272). Do you believe that psychiatrists and psychologists are unnecessary in court proceedings? What do they give jurors that could be considered “expertise”? 
  10. McDermid wrote, “In fact, people have been questioning the truth-seeking value of the trial system for a very long time” (pg. 277); do you agree with this statement? Why do you think people question the trial system so much? What could be done from a forensics view to make it better?
  11. Do you think you could be a forensic scientist? Why or why not?
  12. If you were falsely accused of a crime based on forensic evidence, how would you prove your innocence? Do you think forensic evidence is enough basis for a conviction? Why not; human error rates, too low rates of matches, etc…?
  13. A few well-known criminal cases are discussed (Amanda Knox, O.J. Simpson, etc.). What cases do you know about because of forensic evidence? Do they have some draw to the public? If so, what?
  14. If you got the chance to ask the author of this book one question, what would it be?
  15. Would you want to read more scientific crime cases or stick to the original true crime genre?
  • sold over 17 million books to date across the globe and been translated into more than 40 languages
  • perhaps best-known for her Wire in the Blood series, featuring clinical psychologist Dr. Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan
  • written three other series: private detective Kate Brannigan, journalist Lindsay Gordon and, most recently, cold-case detective Karen Pirie
  • also published in several award-winning standalone novels, books of nonfiction, short story collections, and a children’s picture book
  • a remarkably versatile writer for stage, microphone, and screen as well as books
    •  In early 2017 Val’s latest BBC Radio 4 drama series, Resistance, aired to great acclaim. 
    • BBC Radio 4 has also broadcast five series of her comedy crime ‘Dead’ serial, starring Julie Hesmondhalgh. 
    • And in the last couple of years, she has returned to writing for the theater with Margaret Saves Scotland as well as creating the TV series Traces based on her original idea and starring Molly Windsor and Martin Compston which was well received in late 2019. 
    • 2021 the ITV adaptation of the new drama Karen Pirie based on Val’s eponymous series character
  • She is also an experienced broadcaster with regular and hugely popular appearances on TV and radio. 
    • Val has guest-edited BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, fronted features for BBC Two’s The Culture Show, written and presented many radio documentaries, and appeared on a remarkable range of TV shows from Question Time to Have I Got News For You. 
    • She added to her broadcasting credentials in late 2016 by captaining the winning University Challenge alumnae team, having previously become Celebrity Mastermind champion! 
    • She has also been a member of winning teams in Eggheads and Only Connect Sport Relief.
  • She is the lead singer of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, possibly the only band made up of crime writers ever to play at Glastonbury. 
  • Her entertaining lockdown video series, Cooking The Books: Recipes from the Fiction Kitchen garnered tens of thousands of fans on YouTube and Facebook.
  • Val has won many awards internationally 
    • the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year
    • the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger, the Grand Prix des Romans D’Aventure
    • the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award
    • the Stonewall Writer of the Year 
    • the LA Times Book of the Year Award
    • Uniquely, she has been shortlisted in four different categories in the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards. 
    • In 2016 she received the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction award at Theakston’s Old Peculiar Harrogate Crime Festival 
    • In 2017 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 
    • Val has previously served as a judge for both the Man Booker Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction and was the Chair of the Wellcome Book Prize in 2017. 
    • She is the recipient of six Honorary Doctorates and is an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. 
    • She is Visiting Professor at the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand. 
    • She is a Patron of the Scottish Book Trust and a Trustee of the Homeless World Cup Foundation. 
    • Her story Resurrection: Message from the Skies was a landmark conceptual installation in Edinburgh in January 2018.
  • Val was born in Kirkcaldy, a coastal town in the heart of the Scottish mining community. 
  • She graduated in English from St Hilda’s College, Oxford – the first from a Scottish state school to do so – before going on to be an award-winning journalist for sixteen years. 
  • She is a lifelong Raith Rovers Football Club supporter, has served as a board director, and is the home strip shirt sponsor. 
  • Val’s other loves in life include walking, music, gaming, and cooking.
  • “One of the reasons for the popularity of crime fiction is its faithfulness to the idea of narrative and story structure. Crime novels provide their readers with stories that engage with their hearts and minds, but most of all, stories that make sense.” (NPR)
  • “It’s a companion piece to an exhibition they’re doing at the Wellcome collection next year called ‘From the crime scene to the courtroom’. They wanted a book to sit alongside that – not a catalog of the exhibition but a book about the current state of forensics and the historical road that’s brought us here.” (Science Focus)
  • “I have done non-fiction before but that was 20 years ago. In the intervening 20 years I forgot how much hard work it was to write non-fiction – you can’t just make it up when you get stuck. You have to back it up with solid information.” (Science Focus)
  • “Well, the first obvious one is curiosity – not taking things as you find them, and having a degree of healthy skepticism. But what marks out the people I met was not just a passion for science, but also for humanity. Every one of the scientists I met impressed me because they understood that science is at the service of the living. It’s not just about speaking for the dead – it’s about trying to find justice for the living and giving closure or explanations to people.” (Science Focus)


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