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.
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.