What are the goofiest mistakes writers make in books & TV when they deal with forensics in their stories?
I will preface by saying that I have made goofy mistakes myself, and will probably continue to do so. In my first book I had a bullet traveling at 4000 ft/sec—still not sure where I got that from. I nearly had Lake Erie about four times deeper than it really is; lucky for me my brother caught that one before publication. In Evidence of Murder I said people would die if oxygen fell below 25%, to which an astute and polite reader pointed out that since it is 21% of our atmosphere now, we would all be dead. (I checked my source document—the author actually wrote 25% of normal. Big difference.)
So I do not criticize others’ mistakes. And since forensic labs and scientists can vary in the manner and order in which they do certain things, just because my lab does things a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the only way. Several years ago I read an excellent mystery set in Finland in which the detective got hungry at a crime scene, so he went in and helped himself to a sandwich and beer from the dead man’s refrigerator. I don’t know if that’s honestly how the police operate in that country (after all, it didn’t substantially affect the crime scene, which had already been processed) or if that’s simply how the author assumed the police would operate.
That said, what comes to mind is the great Jeffrey Deaver’s book, The Bone Collector, and it wasn’t a mistake, exactly—he simply commented that no one has ever figured out how to get a fingerprint off a human hair. True, but why would you want to? A hair is so thin that any print obtained would not have sufficient detail to be useful.
Also, there is a scene where Lincoln asks Amelia to saw off the victim’s hands in order to leave the handcuffs unmolested. I’m sure I’m not the only CSI who wrote to point out that while the crime scene belongs to the cops, the body belongs to the M.E. The cops can’t even move it, much less remove parts. Besides, sawing appendages from an unfrozen body is a whole lot harder than it sounds.
Lisa Black is a full time latent print examiner/CSI and the NYT bestselling author of the Theresa MacLean series, including Takeover, Evidence of Murder and the recently released Trail of Blood. Please visit her website at http://www.lisa-black.com/.