Known as the "American Sherlock Holmes," Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America's greatest--and first--forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural. Dawson captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon.
... 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.
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.