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A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes Revised ed. Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674007277
ISBN-10: 0674007271
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Almost every murder has literally millions of witnesses, but their only testimony is a maddening buzz. Speaking for the insects is forensic entomologist M. Lee Goff, who relates some of the secrets of his young profession in A Fly for the Prosecution. Equal parts scientific and true-crime journalism, the book reports unflinchingly on the development of this field as an important adjunct to traditional means of investigation. Based on our constantly improving knowledge of the reproduction and growth of carrion flies and beetles, an informed examiner can determine the time and location of death with great precision, often lending the final evidence needed to close a case. Goff has been at the forefront of forensic entomology and has worked closely with Hawaiian law enforcement for many years, yielding a rich assortment of crime stories to illustrate his research. Readers need a strong stomach to take the macabre details of some of the murders; fortunately for those at the borderline, all the excellent illustrations depict insects rather than their meals. Goff also explores how we came to the knowledge we have today, including the meticulous field research of the 19th century and the modern decomposition studies with pigs in a wide variety of environments and conditions. You might never need the knowledge, but reading A Fly for the Prosecution will at least satisfy your curiosity by telling you what the blowfly saw. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This is a lively and informative firsthand account of forensic entomology in the United States. Goff (entomology, Univ. of Hawaii, Manoa) is a consultant to the Medical Examiner of Honolulu. He is especially well qualified to write this book because of his active involvement in many criminal investigations and his leadership in a profession that has come into its own within the past two decades. Much of the book deals with the use of entomology in investigations, especially in estimating the postmortem interval--the time elapsed between death and discovery of the body. The interval can now be estimated with considerable accuracy by identifying the insects present on the corpse, their stages of development, and their relationships with other insects. This book is not for the squeamish owing to the descriptions of corpses at the scene of death, in the morgue, and in various states of decay, including insect infestation. But Goff also writes about coping with murder scenes, testifying in court, and publicizing his profession. This book should appeal to a wide audience owing to its readability and novel subject matter. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
-William H. Wiese, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised ed. edition (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674007271
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674007277
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #591,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce A. Noll on May 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Goff's informal writing style makes this a readable book for the entomological novice or the crime solving professional. Every mystery novelist should read this book. The natural course of recycling is a wonderful process--I was reminded of the fleeting course of human life compared to the creatures who have lived on the planet for over 300 million years.
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Format: Hardcover
A fascinating book-- well-written, horrifically detailed and creepy. It occupies a place of honor on my bookshelf between Hans Zimmer's Rats, Lice and History and MacNeill's Plagues and Peoples.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is required reading for mystery writers, because it contains unlimited new material for creating better mysteries. Mystery readers will enjoy it too, as they sense new elements of potential complexity for future novels in the genre. Sherlock Holmes loved to read monographs, just like this one.
I do suggest that those who are easily upset by the details of death avoid this book. Although the pictures are not graphic (except as drawings about various insects), the descriptions of the murder victims and what the insects do to them are quite graphic. There was a good reason, after all, why many of the original English murder mysteries had the murder and the investigation of the body occur outside the main line of the story.
If you like forensic detection (such as occurs in the Cornwell and Elkins mysteries), this will be right up your alley.
Forensic entomologists observe what insects are present (and their state of development) to determine time of death and the time when the body was put into its current location. They can also sometimes tell something about where the body has been before.
There are a lot of variables, such as temperature, humidity, where the body is, whether it is covered or not, and so forth. Dr. Goff describes his many experiments with animal carcasses to find out how these factors affect the results.
The book is half science, and half cases that Dr. Goff and others have worked on where these principles have been applied.
In the future, the insects may even be sources of DNA data to help identify the guilty party.
You will also get a sense of how this evolving science came into being, what it is like to serve as a consulting expert in the field, and the strains of being an expert witness in trials.
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Format: Hardcover
This book succeeds at all levels. He has hard science a layperson can follow. He has history as he was in on the process of forensic entymology becoming a recognized field. He has case histories. He has thoughts on being a forensic entymologist. ("I know a life can be radically changed, even ended by my testimony.") And he has funny parts (really) that you can buttonhole your family to read to them aloud. Goff seems an honorable and compassionate man. I want to read his thoughts. I've read any number of books on forensic science for the lay reader so it isn't often anymore that I learn so much new. I had not read one on bugs before and recommend this one with enthusiasm.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I initially picked up the book after an interview Dr. Goff gave on NPR's Fresh Air piqued my interest. The book is at once a macabre and fascinating read. Dr. Goff succeeds in being detached while relating some very sordid, horrifying accounts in a very easy to read fashion. My only mistake was reading this book while eating at a Japanese restaurant. Rest assured, like me, after reading this book, you will never look at flies, or food, the same way again (even now, I often wonder where flies I see about have previously been before).
Part true crime, part science fact, this book sheds light on an interesting, growing, and increasingly important area of criminology. Similar in fashion to the techniques depicted in the book, The Silence of the Lambs, this book gives an in-depth treatment of the way insects have been used not only to determine the time of death, but also solve crimes.
I found the history of the field of forensic entomology, which easily goes back some one hundred years, to be quite fascinating. Dr. Goff also relates to the reader some of the ways fly larvae can potentially be used for the benefit of the living, such as the medicinal uses of wound cleaning and anti-coagulant properties of larvae.
Moreover, I was also touched by the compassion Dr. Goff has for the victims, both living and dead, of violent crime. To do the kind of work he does requires a certain amount of cold detachment (otherwise many could not do it), yet Dr. Goff never forgets that the victims were once human beings. As such, though he has understandably been the subject of more than a few TV dramas, he himself does not try to sensationalize his work.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading this book makes one realize how we are part of the circle of life. Our bodies are part of a cycle and this book graphically describes the process of decomposition. This book provides details on how a forensic entomologist can document the time of death, based upon several factors on the scene, to include the decomposition of the body, bugs that are nearby and other environmental factors.
This book is well written and the illustrations are superb. I recommend this book to any investigator, detective or mystery/crime writers.
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