Mostly Murder - Sidney Smith It's thanks to the work of Sidney Smith (along with others, of course) that we have many of the procedures used in forensics today. Unfortunately I'm blanking on the book (or maybe the podcast?) where I heard his name mentioned and learned a bit of his history. Thanks to his wikipedia page I found the name of his autobiography, and then managed to track down a used copy of it.If you've heard of any of the famous murder cases of Smith's working years - roughly 1928 to 1953 in the UK - then you'll find his discussion of such cases interesting. If you haven't you may not, and I could see how some might call his recounting somewhat dry. I did enjoy most of it, and particularly liked his recollections of what it was like working in various countries doing lab work in difficult conditions. I also enjoyed his "behind the scenes" discussions of lab work and court cases, not to mention his description of some of the more difficult people he's had to work with (ah, bureaucracy!).On the whole this was a book I could easily put down for a bit and not rush to finish, but I don't regard this as a bad thing. It wasn't written to be a murder-mystery-page-turner. If anything Smith wanted to stress the science and procedures involved the most, and how his work had changed the field.Later: Ah ha! I haven't remembered where I first heard of Smith, but I did remember that it had to do with "the real Sherlock Holmes" - which would be Dr. Joseph Bell, a University of Edinburgh lecturer. And Sidney Smith was a student and later an assistant in the department of forensic medicine at the university. So I primarily bought the book to read Smith's reminisces on Bell. Examples! Chapter 2: Doctor Bell and Sherlock Holmes - Yes Holmes fans, this is the chapter you bought the book for! However the chapter is only eleven pages long.p. 29 "...This was Dr. Joseph Bell, who had an almost uncanny gift of diagnosing not only disease but occupation and even character from a patient's appearance."This man," Bell told his students once, after only a glance at the patient, "is a left-handed cobbler." The patient gasped in surprise, the students stared wonderingly. "The worn places on his trousers," Bell explained, "could only have been made by resting a lapstone between his knees. The right side is more worn than the left because he hammers the leather with his left hand." Like a conjuring trick, it always seemed miraculous until it was explained and then it was almost absurdly simple."Did you enjoy your walk over the golf-links to-day, as you came in from the south side of the town?" Bell asked another patient, a complete stranger who had never been to him before. Bell's out-patient clerk, although used to this deductive brilliance, was completely baffled until the surgeon explained. "on a showery day such as this the reddish clay at bare parts of the golf-course adheres to the boot, and a tiny part is bound to remain. There is no such clay anywhere else."It was really quite elementary, as bell himself used to tell friends and social acquaintances......"Why," said a fellow-guest at a dinner party, "Dr. Bell might almost be Sherlock Holmes.""Madam," Dr. Bell replied, "I am Sherlock Holmes."So he was. That out-patient clerk whom he loved to puzzle, and who later qualified as a doctor himself, was Arthur Conan Doyle."The rest of the chapter has a quote from Doyle's biography, and then discusses Holmes, references specific cases of Holmes', and points out the science aspects.p 31 "But there is a puzzle for the attentive reader. ...Yet in not one of the detailed stories does he [Holmes] use his laboratory skill; in not one of these cases does he make a chemical test. his infallible test of bloodstains - discovered at the beginning of his career - was never called into action. All his cases were solved by other methods. Conan Doyle seems, indeed, curiously casual about scientific tests..."p 32 "It may be, however, that Doyle was simply too anxious not to write above his readers' heads. When Dr. Bell once suggested that Holmes should be matches against a germ murderer, and hinted that he knew of a case of this sort, Doyle replied that he feared that bacteriological murder might be too complex for the average reader to understand. ...Nowadays the case is different; scientific trimmings are popular in detective stories, and lay authors sometimes risk using imperfect knowledge in an attempt to give the public what it wants."Another story of Dr. Bell:p. 32-33 "..."You must observe everything, gentlemen," he used to tell his students. "Use your eyes; use your fingers; use all your faculties before coming to a decision about anything." Once, while talking in this vein, he held up a tube containing fluid of a nauseous nature. "Now gentlemen, apply your powers of observation to this sample. Before attempting to carry out any chemical procedures, do as I do. Look at it - observe its colour, see whether it is opalescent or clean. Smell it: has it any particular odour that you recognize? Taste it." Whereupon he put his finger into the glass and raised his hand to his mouth, making a grimace as he did so.[Edited out a few sentences where students do as he asks.]..."That, gentlemen, indicates the complete lack of observation in the members of this class. Not one of you observed that whereas I placed my forefinger in the glass, it was my middle finger that I put in my mouth."After you read enough of the Dr. Bell stories you note that Smith never says he was present at any of them. So the reader does have the idea that most of the Bell-lore comes from stories that had been passed around by many other students. (Which seems business as usual in the way most colleges have their own folklore about certain faculty.)Several pages are given over to explaining how the "medico-legal expert, or specialist in forensic medicine is not a detective" (p 35), and how that specialist aids the police in studying the crime and then acting as a witness in court. (This was around the time of 1913.) Nothing about Bell or Homes in this final part of the chapter, but it's a great summation of how the field of forensic medicine was organized.Whether you will find the rest of the book as enjoyable as this chapter will depend on whether Smith convinces you his stories about his own career can be of interest. I'll note that he definitely explains to the reader about the scientific tests that he used in various cases.