I welcome Bradley Harper to the blog. Brad is the author of Knife in the Fog, a pastiche novel that has Arthur Conan Doyle, Margaret Harkness, and Dr. Joseph Bell tackling the unresolved mystery of Jack the Ripper. Brad’s also one of the “Misters” in the Sisters in Crime Central Virginia chapter.
Today he tells us all about Forensics … or “Whodunnit?” Take it away, Brad!
Aristotle said there are only three arguments: Blame, Values, and Choice.
Think of Professor Henry Hill in the musical, The Music Man, in his famous song, “We got trouble right here, right here in River City!” (The current situation is not acceptable to our values.)
“That starts with T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Pool!” (The new pool hall is to blame for the current situation.)
He goes on to suggest a community band would lead the youth back onto the path of righteousness, which is an argument of choice.
Arguments which center on assigning blame are called Forensics.
The oldest use of Forensic science I’ve found was three thousand years ago, and the detective in our story was a magistrate in a small village in China who happened upon the body of a woman hacked to death, near a field where some men were working. When he questioned them, they all denied any knowledge regarding her death, so he had them line up and lay their sickles on a table in front of them, instructing each man to stand beside his tool.
Imagine the scene now. It must have been a warm day for them to be out harvesting, and the sweat on their brow could have been from exertion… or the fear of being found out. After a few minutes a familiar buzzing was heard, and slowly more and more flies appeared and settled on one blade, and one blade only. The dried blood, invisible to the naked eye, drew the flies nonetheless, who served as witnesses for the prosecution.
Despite this promising start, forensic science had no significant new developments until around the middle of the nineteenth century when Rudolf Virchow, a German pathologist in Würzburg, developed the discipline of pathology, and his students coined the term “autopsy,” which means “to see for yourself,” and the use of medical science to assist law enforcement began.
Still, when Arthur Conan Doyle penned his first Holmes Story, “A Study in Scarlet” in 1887, police investigations relied primarily on eye witness accounts and interrogations. The techniques Doyle uses in his stories were for all practicality science fiction when they were written, and it took a French admirer of Doyle’s detective to make Holmes’ methods a practical reality.
Edmond Locard was both a physician and a lawyer, and in 1910 he persuaded the chief of police in Lyon, France, to give him two small attic rooms and two assistants to create the world’s first crime lab. He was given two years to prove the concept, and as these two years drew near to ending without a significant breakthrough he became concerned his lab would be closed.
Then a young woman was found strangled in her apartment, and her lover was suspected as the killer, but four men swore he was playing cards with them in his apartment at the time the woman was probably murdered. Locard suspected the man right away, and scraped the man’s fingernails and retained the scrapings.
Cosmetics were common, but there were no large companies at the time, so women purchased them from the local pharmacy, each one having its own formula. Locard went to the pharmacy the murder victim used, and when this pharmacy’s cosmetics were compared under a microscope with the scrapings from the suspect’s fingernails, they matched perfectly. Confronted with this evidence, the man confessed he was the murderer, and had moved the clock back one hour in the room he’d played cards with his friends.
The conviction of the killer saved Locard’s lab, and soon crime labs sprang up in police departments around the world, turning Doyle’s science fiction, into fact.
Returning to the three types of arguments: values are always argued in the present tense: things are or are not acceptable. Forensic arguments of course are waged in the past tense: someone did, or did not. Choice pertains to the future: we should or should not take a particular course of action. So, if you hear a couple arguing, and notice they are not both using the same verb tense, one of their problems is they’re not having the same argument!
Bradley Harper is a retired US Army Pathologist with over thirty-seven years of worldwide military/medical experience, ultimately serving as a Colonel/Physician in the Pentagon. During his Army career, Harper performed some two hundred autopsies, twenty of which were forensic.
Upon retiring from the Army, Harper earned an Associate’s Degree in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. He has been published in The Strand Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and a short story he wrote involving Professor Moriarty in the Holmes tale of The Red Headed League (entitled The Red Herring League) won Honorable Mention in an international short fiction contest. A member of the Mystery Writers of America, Authors Guild, and Sisters in Crime, Harper is a regular contributor to the Sisters in Crime bi-monthly newsletter.
Harper’s first novel, A Knife in the Fog, involves a young Arthur Conan Doyle joining in the hunt for Jack the Ripper, and was a finalist for an 2019 Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America for Best First Novel by an American Author. His second book, Queen’s Gambit, is scheduled for release September 17.
Connect with Brad:
A Knife in the Fog is available at most booksellers, but also online: