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The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases Paperback – April 1, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0470128237 ISBN-10: 0470128232 Edition: 1st

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The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases + The Sherlock Holmes Handbook + Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470128232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470128237
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.7 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Forensic expert Wagner has crafted a volume that stands out from the plethora of recent memoirs of contemporary scientific detectives. By using the immortal and well-known Sherlock Holmes stories as her starting point, Wagner blends familiar examples from Doyle's accounts into a history of the growth of forensic science, pointing out where fiction strayed from fact. The author avoids the technical details that mar so many other efforts in this genre, injecting life into her narrative by weaving in true crime cases that either influenced Holmes's creator or may have been influenced by a published story from the Baker Street sleuth. Particularly memorable is a creepy 1945 murder of a man who, as a youth, had had an encounter with a spectral dog reminiscent of the hound of the Baskervilles. While some of the speculations are thin (including a passing suggestion about a new Ripper suspect), Wagner presents a balanced view of the history of forensic science that should appeal to a wide audience. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

* ""Fascinating.... The Science of Sherlock Holmes will intrigue readers with incredible stories and amazing tales from the early days of forensic science."" (Christian Science Monitor)

""…informative, intriguing and entertaining…"" (What's on in London, July 2006)

""…well-researched book…"" (Chemistry World, August 2006)

""…will be appreciated…not just by devotees of Holmes…but by anyone interested in the Victorian beginnings of forensic science…"" (Chemistry World, August 2006)

Forensic expert Wagner has crafted a volume that stands out from the plethora of recent memoirs of contemporary scientific detectives. By using the immortal and well-known Sherlock Holmes stories as her starting point, Wagner blends familiar examples from Doyle's accounts into a history of the growth of forensic science, pointing out where fiction strayed from fact. The author avoids the technical details that mar so many other efforts in this genre, injecting life into her narrative by weaving in true crime cases that either influenced Holmes's creator or may have been influenced by a published story from the Baker Street sleuth. Particularly memorable is a creepy 1945 murder of a man who, as a youth, had had an encounter with a spectral dog reminiscent of the hound of the Baskervilles. While some of the speculations are thin (including a passing suggestion about a new Ripper suspect), Wagner presents a balanced view of the history of forensic science that should appeal to a wide audience. (Apr.) (Publishers Weekly, January 16, 2006)

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

I am a crime historian, a lecturer, a teller of suspense stories for adults, and the organizer/moderator of the Forensic Forum at the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences at Stony Brook University.

My work has been published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, the New York Times, The Lancet, and Smithsonian magazine. The Science of Sherlock Holmes is my first book.

On my web site - http://www.ejwagner-crimehistorian.com/ - there's a lot more about the book and its reviews, criminal history, and the programs I present.

Customer Reviews

The writing style is friendly, authoritative and quite engaging.
G. Poirier
The case could be made that the most famous character in fiction is the world's greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes.
R. Hardy
Overall, I found the book, copyright 2006 and in my library unread for years, a great nighttime read.
Jennifer Petkus

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Rick Mitchell VINE VOICE on June 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This short book is an interesting history of forensics.

Based upon the subtitle, I thought the author would spend more time applying forensic science to Sherlock Holmes' cases. Instead, Sherlock Holmes, and obviously Conan Doyle, are used in two peripheral ways. They are used to introduce a topic or, occasionally, and more interestingly, Ms Wagner would relate a true crime that occurred before a Holmes story was written, then show the parallels that indicate that Doyle based his story on that true crime.

So, if you pick this up because you are a big Sherlock fan expecting insight into those stories you will be disappointed. If, however, you find forensics at all interesting, you will enjoy this book.

Ms Wagner follows the developing science of criminal investigation from its infancy in the nineteenth century into the earliest twentieth century. Thus, true to the subtitle, she limits her history to around Doyle's time.

Ms Wagner included in the book many many examples of crime solving - or unsuccessful attempts at crime-solving. Her examples are, almost without fail, interesting and entertaining. Those examples keep the book moving and prevent it from being a mere recitation of developments in forensic science. Also included are interesting sidelights, such asthe fact that many autopsies were done on the dining room table of the house in which the murder was committed. These pearls also engage the reader.

As noted, this was a short book. I got to the end and wished there were more.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Laura James on June 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is a shining example of excellence, an A. Author E.J. Wagner's absolute command of the facts, crisp summaries of the most famous cases, her irony and subtle sarcasm -- I am very, very impressed. And in this genre, I am a hanging judge.

To be honest, I had reservations when I first heard about this book. Sure, there was plenty of excited murmuring among the die-hards in the Holmesian set. But many recent historic crime titles that took on topics of broad scope just absolutely flunked the quiz. As an attorney who has studied historic true crime for longer than I care to relay, I'm a very tough audience for an encyclopedic treatment of the subject. Check out my review of "Homicide: 100 years" and you'll see just one example of an author that butchered a promising premise.

But E.J. Wagner does not disappoint. If the Science of Sherlock Holmes contains any factual errors, I was hard-pressed to spot a one of them. In Wagners quite capable hands, the science, the real mysteries, and the fiction are woven together seamlessly. Wagner fills her early history of forensic science with larger-than-life characters and bizarre murder cases, from "the dark delights of the Borden mystery" to the famous Dreyfus affair, Charles Bravo case, Dr. Crippen, Hauptmann, Jack the Ripper, the Tichborne scandal, Constance Kent, and so on. Many of the interesting cases she mentions are new even to me. And she relays these stories in delightful prose -- I was often reminded of the crisp wit of my all-time favorite crime writer Edmund L. Pearson, and few other authors have ever so reminded me.

She also explains the earliest advances in forensic science -- but doesn't leave out such faux pas as phrenology. And there's Sherlock Holmes in large doses.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The case could be made that the most famous character in fiction is the world's greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes. His adventures from over a hundred years ago still have many devoted readers, often within fan clubs, and sequels and movies seem as if they are never going to stop. We love Holmes because he was rationality triumphant, the cool thinker who could outwit the best brains that the underworld could produce. One of Holmes's attractive tributes was his reliance on scientific evaluation of the clues which he found; he not only used forensic science as it was then known, he originated aspects of it, at least in fiction. It is not surprising that his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, would have busied Holmes in forensics. Doyle, a physician, was tutored by Dr. Joseph Bell, whose incisive personality, keen observation, and powers of deduction made him a model for Holmes. In a time when there are big audiences following dramas based on forensic investigation of crime scenes, it is good to go back to the basics: _The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases_ (Wiley) by E. J. Wagner not only shows the requisite admiration for the forensic skill of the master, but places such skill in context at a time when scientific detection was just getting started.

Before Holmes's time, people were just as fascinated as we by crime, and discussed physical evidence left by evil-doers, but the evidence was often evaluated with superstition or folklore.
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