Book Look - The Science of Sherlock Holmes, by E.J.Wagner

For years now, I've wondered how much of the forensics science described in the Sherlock Holmes canon was factual. Given the currency of shows like CSI, it can be difficult to imagine that as early as the 1880s (when the Holmes stories were being penned) police were already utilizing trace evidence to solve crimes.

Turns out I'm not the only one wondering! The author, E.J. Wagner, combines his skills as a historian and his credentials as a Holmes fan to map the Sherlock Holmes stories against actual Victorian crimefighting techniques.

Devoting a chapter each to poisons, fingerprints, footprints, handwriting evidence, insect evidence, disguise, ballistics, dust/fiber analysis, blood evidence, how crime scenes were processed, and the science of autopsies, Wallace describes the methods that were actually being utilized at the time, gives examples of each in the Holmes canon, and then regales the reader with scores of real-life cases from the Victorian era in which the techniques were employed.

Though he's writing about science, Wagner's prose is breezy, his tone light, and his scientific descriptions highly accessible. Nor is a knowledge of the Holmes stories a prerequisite, as the author is diligent in ensuring that all quotes from the stories are accompanied by a sufficiently detailed description of context.

There's really something for everyone here. Historians will appreciate the opportunity to learn more about not-often-addressed aspects of the Victorian era. Fans of true & fictional crime will delight in the author's engrossing tales of notorious Victorian crimes (a combination of the usual "Victorian greatest hits of crime" - Lizzie Bordon, Jack the Ripper, Madame Lafarge, Dr. Crippen, etc. - enhanced by scores of lesser known but equally engrossing tales). And Sherlockians will relish the opportunity to learn more about how police methods influenced the Holmes tales ... and, even more fascinating, how the Holmes tales influenced police methods.

This is one book that deserves more attention than it has apparently gotten. Highly recommended!

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