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The Rise and Rise of Forensic Fiction Dr Aliki Varvogli, Lecturer in English, School of Humanities

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Presentation on theme: "The Rise and Rise of Forensic Fiction Dr Aliki Varvogli, Lecturer in English, School of Humanities"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Rise and Rise of Forensic Fiction Dr Aliki Varvogli, Lecturer in English, School of Humanities

2 Forensic Fiction  Crime novels, films, TV shows etc that show how forensic science and medicine are used to solve crime.  CSI, Silent Witness, Bones  Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen

3 Today’s Talk  Overview of literary development  Approaches to forensic fiction  Reasons for its popularity and the strong presence of women

4 Beginnings  Edgar Allan Poe  Arthur Conan Doyle

5 ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, 1841  On the chair lay a razor, besmeared with blood. On the hearth were two or three long and thick tresses of gray human hair, also dabbled with blood, and seeming to have been pulled out by the roots.

6 The first body  a search was made in the chimney, and … the corpse of the daughter … was dragged therefrom... The body was quite warm. Upon examining it, many excoriations were perceived, no doubt occasioned by the violence with which it had been thrust up and disengaged. Upon the face were many severe scratches, and, upon the throat, dark bruises, and deep indentations of finger nails, as if the deceased had been throttled to death.

7 The second body  a small paved yard in the rear of the building, where lay the corpse of the old lady, with her throat so entirely cut that, upon an attempt to raise here, the head fell off. The body, as well as the head, was fearfully mutilated--the former so much so as scarcely to retain any semblance of humanity.

8 How does the narrator know?  Newspaper reports

9 Newspaper report  "To this horrible mystery there is not as yet, we believe, the slightest clew."  Edgar Allan Poe first author to introduce the idea of the ‘clue’ in crime fiction.

10 How we read the story 1. Historical analysis: Appetite for gory, sensational stories in newspapers. Fear of the immigrant as killer. 2. Psychological, Psychoanalytical and Sociological analysis: Fascination with violence to women and the mutilated female body

11 How we read the story 3. Philosophical analysis:  The detective (early forensic expert) can pick up fragments and reconstruct the whole.  We live in a world that can be interpreted and understood, but we need a man of vision to reconstruct the pieces of evidence and discover the truth.

12 ‘The Purloined Letter’  The cushions we probed with the fine long needles you have seen me employ. From the tables we removed the tops."

13 ‘The Purloined Letter’  "But you could not have removed --you could not have taken to pieces all articles of furniture … You did not take to pieces all the chairs?"

14 ‘The Purloined Letter’  I took the entire building, room by room… We examined, first, the furniture of each apartment.  "we examined the rungs of every chair in the hotel, and, indeed, the jointings of every description of furniture, by the aid of a most powerful microscope. Had there been any traces of recent disturbance we should not have failed to detect it instantly. A single grain of gimlet-dust, for example, would have been as obvious as an apple.

15 ‘The Purloined Letter’  and when we had absolutely completed every particle of the furniture in this way, then we examined the house itself. We divided its entire surface into compartments, which we numbered; then we scrutinized each individual square inch throughout the premises, with the microscope, as before."  "Then," I said, "you have been making a miscalculation, and the letter is not upon the premises, as you suppose.  Can you guess where the letter was?

16 Early Forensic stories  Fascination with, but also mistrust of new methods, science and technology.  Forensic analysis only useful in the hands of a genius

17 A century and a half later…  Patricia Cornwell  Kathy Reichs  Bones  Silent witness  CSI

18 TV Shows  Special effects and make-up  Cutting-edge, up to date science and technology  Emphasis on collaborative effort gives the soap-opera element that keeps us hooked

19 Novels  Rely on written word to paint vivid images  Risk becoming outdated  Rely on the literary convention of the main character, the novel’s hero or heroine

20 Patricia Cornwell  20 novels, Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner  Old-fashioned suspense  Cutting-edge science and technology  Postmortem (1990)  Body of Evidence (1991)

21 Patricia Cornwell, Postmortem (1990)  As early as two years earlier, the killer’s nonsecreter status would have been a crushing blow to the forensic investigation. But now there was DNA profiling, newly introduced and potentially significant enough to identify an assailant.

22 Patricia Cornwell, Postmortem (1990)  Near the base of the lamp were two computer diskettes. They were generic double-density diskettes, IBM- compatible.

23 The medical examiner at work  The only way I could maintain my equilibrium was to channel my concentration into one thought at a time, as if I, like the laser beam, was in phase too – all of me in sync with what I was doing, the sum of my mental energy coalesced into a single wavelength.

24 The medical examiner at home  I took a deep breath and another sip of wine. I began to dread going to bed, dreading those moments in the dark before sleep, fearing what it would be like when I permitted myself to be still, and therefore unguarded. I could not stop seeing images of Lori Petersen [the strangled victim].

25 The forensic anthropologist at work  I wasn’t thinking about the man who’d blown himself up. Earlier I had. Now I was putting him together. Kathy Reichs, Deja Dead, 1997

26 Why is it so popular?  Makes violent death seem less meaningless  Reassures us that crime and criminals can be ‘read’ and ‘interpreted’  Application of science and technology as a force for good  The next best thing to bringing back the dead!

27 Why women?  Strong, empowered females:  By the time I found the receiver I was listening to a dial tone. Replaying his message, I slumped against pillows and began to cry.  The next morning Marino arrived at the morgue as I was making a Y incision on Cary Harper’s body. I removed the breastplate of ribs and lifted the block of organs out of the chest cavity…

28 Why Women?  Meticulous, thorough work  Compassion ‘A violent death is a public event, and it was this facet of my profession that so rudely grated against my sensibilities. I did what I could to preserve the dignity of the victims’  Restoring humanity to dead body as analogue for acts of creation and birth

29 Conclusion  Cornwell’s medical examiner cuts and slices, examines every organ in the body, scrutinizes every bruise, cut or mark on the skin, analyses every fiber, but eventually solves the crime by talking to the victim’s friends and, crucially, by listening to their stories with kindness and compassion.

30 Conclusion  Very often, lay people view medicine, and the application of science and technology, as de-humanising forces, and doctors and scientists as emotionally detached professionals. These novels dazzle us with their characters’ expertise, but their appeal lies in the fact that they show that forensics alone does not solve crime;

31 Conclusion  forensic medicine can restore dignity to the body by allowing it to tell its individual story, but ultimately the dead, cut-up body is metaphorically made whole again through the human qualities of empathy and compassion that these fictional professionals bring to their job.


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