End of Contemporary Crime Novels?

April 21, 2014

Well, maybe not the end. But I've noticed an uptick in the number of historical crime fiction titles over the past few years, and I suspect modern technology has as much of a hand in that trend as readers' preferences. I've heard many authors complain that the pervasive technological connections in today's society -- cellphones everywhere, forensic breakthroughs, the "CSI Effect" from TV shows -- make it harder to write a novel about crime and crime solving because it's difficult to stay on top of evolving techniques and procedures.


Still, this brave new world holds a lot of promise in real life. Some of the latest news, for instance:


  • A study from North Carolina State University shows characteristics of male and female skulls differ significantly between populations, even between those geographically close to one another. One of the researchers, Dr. Ann Ross, said, "Finding this level of dimorphism between groups in such close proximity to each other highlights the importance of examining human variation if we hope to make informed assessments of skeletal remains. That's true whether you're working in a biohistorical context or engaged in forensic analysis with law enforcement."

  • Italian-born scientist Dr Stefano Vanin, who lectures at the University of Huddersfield in the UK, is making discoveries that will help crime scene investigators determine whether injuries to a body or damage to a corpse's clothing were caused by a human killer or were the work of insects that moved in after death. This will be particularly helpful when detectives and forensic scientists are examining future corpses recovered from fresh water.

  • To create a victim or perpetrator's DNA profile, the FBI scans a DNA sample for at least 13 short tandem repeats (STRs). Whitehead Institute researchers have created lobSTR, a three-step system that accurately and simultaneously profiles more than 100,000 STRs from a human genome sequence in one day. The tool will provide access to tens of thousands of quickly changing DNA markers scientists couldn't get before that can be used in forencis as well as genetics.

  • Thanks to research at North Carolina State Unviversity, law enforcement officials can now determine the biological sex of skeletal remains based solely on measurements of the seven tarsal bones in the feet.

  • Gunshot residue tests, used by law enforcement to determine if a suspect has recently fired a weapon, detect three elements, barium, antimony, and lead. However, many manufacturers no longer use lead in their products, which could render the current GSR tests nearly useless. Forensic researchers at Florida International University have developed a method that can connect a shooter to lead-free ammunition by analyzing the entire "recipe" for the specific smokeless powder used in today's ammunition. Since each manufacturer has their own blend, it would be simple to match the power found at the scene to that found on a suspect’s hands.

  • A company called Leica Geosystems have devloped a tool to help law enforcement "scan" a crime scene in mere minutes instead of the hours normally spent measuring and photographing. Detectives use a three dimensional laser scanner to create the scene in animated 3D. The re-creations and measurements are so accurate they're 100% approved for use in court testimony.

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