Beating the Devil's Game: A History
of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation
By Katherine Ramsland
(Berkley Books, $25)

  • Image about Katherine Ramsland

With master's degrees in forensic psychology and clinical psychology, plus a PhD in philosophy, Katherine Ramsland has chosen to deploy her intellectual curiosity in a morbid field. Ramsland has written books about serial killers, mass murderers, sexual predators, and the techniques of investigating cold cases. She also writes books related to the CSI television empire's episodes (including last year's The C.S.I. Effect), finding the links between on-screen fiction and real-life fact.

In Beating the Devil's Game, though, Ramsland steps back from current cases to explain how criminal investigation got its start and then evolved into the high-tech career of today. How did the practice of fingerprinting come to be? What about ballistics? Document analysis? And, perhaps most significantly, DNA identification? Ramsland takes readers back many centuries, to ancient Rome and feudal China, among other locales, when organized religion and outright superstition hampered drawing logical conclusions from crime-scene evidence. But as the scientific technique began to overtake - or at least coexist with - religion and superstition, the methods for catching the perpetrators became more reliable.

The chapters are organized more or less chronologically, so readers can easily discern the progression of criminal-investigation techniques throughout history and in a variety of international cultures. A strength of the book is its global approach; so many other books about forensic science are United States–centric. That said, because of its haphazard organization within each chapter, as a narrative, the book is difficult to follow. Still, Ramsland’s book holds discoveries for every CSI buff. From the development of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes to the invention of lie-detection machines to the teasing out of DNA, Ramsland comfortably guides the reader through crime-solving land. — S.W.