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Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist (1994) Dr. William Maples

I’ll be honest. I bought this on sale, so the fact I only paid a dollar or two for it colors my opinion. If I’d paid full price, I’d have liked it a lot less.

Take that as you will.

This book is a bit of a memoir of Dr Maples, who was a forensic anthropologist in Florida, and often consulted on both criminal cases and with the military, in identifying the remains of bodies found.

First, this was very obviously written before the interest in CSI and forensics. WVU has a Forensics program, so his complaints, about the lack of forensic anthropology programs sees to be not so true anymore. Since there were many of these comments, it was kind of amusing. Especially since the TV program he mentions (disdainfully I might add!) is Quincy. (I loved Quincy as a kid.)

Nevermind the state of DNA analysis at the time the book was written.

Although I have not heard of it done yet, there will undoubtedly come a day when the debris left over by a chain saw after a dismemberment, or even minute traces of flesh, bone and blood on the chain-saw blade itself, will be analyzed for their DNA content and matched up with the DNA of the victim.

Interestingly, what he writes about is the stuff I liked best about Kathy Reichs’ Tempe Brennen series, until I got sick of her never resolving her love life.

And he’s amusing.

Another skull I examined was perforated with a pattern that perfectly matched the one on this pry bar. I often go to Sears and look at the tools there to see if any match up to the holes in the skulls that come to this laboratory. When the salesman asks: “Can I help you, sir?” I tell him, “No, you wouldn’t understand. I’ll know what I’m looking for when I see it.”

It is a lot easier to saw through a human bone with a hacksaw than with a wood saw. I have verified this myself.

I always make a point of telling the airline ticket agent just how many skulls I have with me in my baggage— not to shock her, but to make sure that, in case the plane crashes, investigators will know why there were more skulls than passengers aboard. This is mere professional courtesy to my colleagues, who will have to pick through my remains in the event of an accident.

It’s an interesting book, and I really enjoyed the glimpses into how old cases were solved, but the book could have used some editing, since it rambles on in places. But if you can pick it up on sale? Totally go for it.
Rating: 6/10

Published by Broadway Books

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