... capitalizes on our current CSI,My Favorite Murder and Forensic Files true-crime obsessions, and the book delivers on its promise of gruesome murders, huge manhunts and the pleasures of clue gathering ... Dawson’s writing can be repetitive, but she tells a good story, and when she details a crime, the book satisfies all of our morbid, rubbernecking tendencies. Bay Area readers will get a particular reward from the retelling of early 20th century crimes involving the Fairmont Hotel, Alameda and Bay Farm Island, and Salada Beach in Pacifica ... The book bogs down when it veers into a biography of Heinrich, a dour, anxious egoist who was not nearly as interesting as his profession. He was undoubtedly a genius, but he was also a bit of a drag, living proof that not all geniuses make interesting subjects ... well-written, certainly well-researched but ultimately too much of a mishmash — part biography, part history of forensics, part true crime — to be truly satisfying. I would have loved it at 5,000 words.
... intriguing and in-depth ... While American Sherlock surely will appeal to true-crime aficionados, it also will grab the attention of anyone who appreciates a good story. In addition to gaining an understanding of early forensic science, readers will be treated to a glimpse into several prominent cases (including Fatty Arbuckle’s numerous trials) and an exploration of the societal issues at play during the relevant time periods.
The latest nonfiction page-turner from Kate Winkler Dawson is really two books, one of which is great ... Blood spatter patterns, fingerprinting, stomach content analysis, specifics of decomposition—Heinrich seems to have been at the forefront of all of it, which Dawson demonstrates in case studies that focus on his splashier work, including failed efforts to nail comic actor Fatty Arbuckle for the death of a starlet ... Less successful are the biographical details Dawson uses in an attempt to explain why Heinrich was driven to bring criminals to justice. As too many stories pile up about, for instance, Heinrich’s spendthrift son, one can almost hear Dawson’s students at the University of Texas parroting her advice: Edit, edit, edit.
American Sherlock delves deeply into Heinrich’s methods as he investigates various crimes; these sections are the fascinating meat of the book. (Readers should be aware that several of the forensics photographs included in the book are gruesome.) Dawson is less successful in her depiction of the criminalist as an insecure and somewhat fusty perfectionist, forever fretting over his finances ... Dawson establishes that Heinrich was a true pioneer in his field.
A fascinating book worthy of being associated with the title’s literary sleuth. Readers will want a follow-up so they can discover more of Heinrich’s cases as told through Dawson’s great storytelling. For fans of Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and other true crime works.
... the author tells vivid details of a wide variety of infamous crimes, not revealing all the secrets or indulging in conspiracy theories but still developing suspense and, most importantly, reporting the scene clearly with both the history accepted at the time and revisionist reflection. While many true-crime books suffer from stale prose, Dawson’s writing is remarkable in that it never uses the crutch of false suspense but also doesn’t skimp on valuable details. The author explains Heinrich’s deductive reasoning matter-of-factly, succinctly, and with the proper respectful attention to the victims while acknowledging the complex hubris of such an adept detective ... Readers see the development of each crime through victim and suspect profiles that read as objectively as Heinrich’s methods. We come to respect him, his scientific brain, and his integrity despite his mistakes ... An entertaining, absorbing combination of biography and true crime.
Edward Oscar Heinrich (1881–1953) was one of America’s earliest criminologists. He was also a meticulous record keeper, allowing Dawson to recreate his fascinating life story ... Those interested in the development of modern forensics will be enthralled.