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Pointing From the Grave: A True Story of Murder and DNA Hardcover – April 16, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Weaving together cutting-edge genetics and forensic criminology, courtroom drama and multiple perspectives, Weinberg's book is an ambitious and riveting tale of crime and the science that has been developed to counter it. In 1984, Helena Greenwood, a chemical pathologist and successful executive in the burgeoning biotech industry, is sexually assaulted in her San Francisco home. Paul Frediani is eventually arrested as the primary suspect-after he is caught exposing himself to a 13-year-old girl. But following the initial arraignment, Greenwood is found viciously murdered in the front yard of her new home in Southern California. Lacking conclusive evidence, the police store Greenwood's bloodied clothing and fingernail clippings in Ziploc bags, the case is shelved and the murder goes unsolved for 15 years. Although this crime is not as sensationalistic as some, Weinberg plucks out the gripping details and fortifies her account with a crisp history of DNA, from Watson and Crick's discovery of the double helix to the pitched legal battles over the validity of DNA evidence. Weinberg (A Fish Caught in Time) is at her best when she is the beat-stomping journalist faithfully letting her well-chosen story tell itself. She is far less assured, however, with hard-hitting metaphors ("One by one, she picks up Bartick's points, then neutralizes them, as if killing mosquitoes with a giant can of Doom"), and least successful when she tries to write herself melodramatically into the story: "I have been sucked into the spinning spirals, and even if I wanted to jump out, I do not think I could." Thankfully, Weinberg rarely gets in the way.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"An expertly told, deeply satisfying account of a rotten crime solved by chemical sleuthing." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Fascinating stuff...(a) thoroughly researched account." -- Washington Post Book World
Top customer reviews
The pleasant surprise was the book's essential structure and Ms. Weinberg's writing style. This was a true story that in many ways was written like a great crime novel. Her cast of characters had well developed personalities. Her research was meticulous. She was able to build a level of suspense when her reader already knew where she was going. Weinberg managed to maintain a level of objectivity and even a level of sympathy for the perpetrator while managing to be mindful that this person wasn't innocent.
As for my own reaction to this story, I became almost immediately hooked. There was almost a creepy aspect here as I had stayed at a hotel no more than 2 blocks from the scene of the crime last October. Her descriptions were so intensely visual that I almost felt like I was in Del Mar witnessing the crime scene first hand. I kept thinking that this all seemed so surreal. On a certain level I kept thinking the title could have been Murder In Paradise.
This book was researched very thorougly and many people who were involved closely to the victim, perpetrator, or the investigations conducted were interviewed at length.
Of course, as the title implies, the victim was indirectly responsible for nailing her murderer 15 years after the fact. While there is a certain irony in that, by no means is that the whole story.
I read this book in slightly over 3 hours. Usually I don't speed read when I'm reading for pleasure, but it was so compelling I just couldn't wait to move forward.
Be forwarned that I only review books that I really like or really detest. I absolutely loved this one.
Weinberg intercuts her murder story with visits to labs and descriptions of the history of DNA going back to before Watson and Crick. One of Weinberg's digressions is to the Innocence Project, which has used DNA evidence to free wrongly convicted prisoners. The Project's efforts have shown that courts and juries are more badly flawed than anyone had previously suspected, and have increased the importance of DNA for fair legal investigation. But the useful digressions in _Pointing from the Grave_ all hang on the story of Greenwood's murder, and that story is very well told indeed. In 1998, an investigator found Greenwood's fingernail clippings taken at the autopsy, and thought that perhaps under the fingernails would be skin samples for investigation. When Greenwood had been murdered, such evidence was useless; fifteen years later, it provided the basis for the arrest of a charming sociopath who at the time of the murder had had been out on bail for sexually assaulting her. His lawyer attempted to use the defense that the science was untested, to "persuade the jury it was voodoo," but in 2001, juries had heard enough about DNA successes, and prosecutors had had enough experience with demonstrating the reliability of such evidence, to make a difference.
Weinberg has interviewed many of the scientists whose work she mentions, and has had jailhouse interviews with the accused. She has become friends with his family, who are sad figures ("they were the essence of the American suburban family") trying to understand how a nurturing and non-abusive upbringing could have turned out so. There are vital portraits of all the players at the trial here, and a summary of the proceedings that is exciting. Unforgettable is Greenwood's father; he was proud of his science-inclined only child, and devastated by her death. "There's enough sadness in the world," he said, "without people killing each other." He compared it to stones thrown in a pond, "... the ripples as they grow outward bring misery to everyone." When he said this, prostate cancer was painfully killing him in England, but he had hung on to life for years hoping to have his daughter's death resolved. He heard the verdict relayed to him by telephone, and died only hours later.