A Book Review by Doron Gil, Ph.D.
What is there in gruesome crimes and horror movies that attract us so often? What makes us curious about true-crime movies, books, news and magazine articles? What drives us, at times so forcefully, to “enjoy” reading and/or watching movies depicting crimes?
Nigel McCrery’s Silent Witnesses: The often gruesome but always fascinating history of forensic science (Random House Books, Great Britain, 2013) is such a book, engulfing us in its information, the crimes it tells, and the finding of the murderers.
McCrery’s Silent Witnesses provides a fascinating reading: not only does it bring forth many true crimes which happened over the last two centuries, but also shows us how they were solved; how dedicated detectives and forensic scientists have been as they attempted to solve the gruesome murders. Persistency and perseverance are two essential traits of such investigators.
It details the ways by which such crimes were solved – or were attempted to be solved – since the initiation of forensic science. As such, the book outlines for us, the readers, the development of forensic science, stage by stage, from “simple” to more “complex” techniques. At its end you come to believe – and realize – that with today’s modern forensic science techniques no crime can go unsolved.
Forensic science and psychological profiles of killers seem to be intermingled and connected. As part of solving the case and finding the criminal the detectives and investigators must get into the head of the criminal – be this a psychopath or a sadist – in order to figure out what has taken place, where and when (in many cases the victim’s body has been “transferred” to a different location after being murdered).
We, the readers, are drawn to the book not only due to our curiosity as well as by its writing power and its gruesome content, but also – maybe unconsciously – by the “shadow” which is a part of each one of us – this dark part which we tend to deny as being a part of us, since we prefer to believe that we don’t posses any “negative” and/or “murky” characteristics – but nonetheless are drawn towards them…
According to the theory developed by the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung (1875 – 1961), each one of alued” human emotions and impulses such as selfishness, power, sexus has, in our unconscious mind, a “shadow”. The “shadow” is the ”dark side” of our personality. It is called “the dark side” because it consists predominantly of the negative, socially or religiously “unaccepted” and “unvual lust, anger, jealousy, envy and greed.
“The shadow” – this “dark side” – is part of our unconscious, therefore we are unaware of it. Therefore, we are unwilling to accept, admit and acknowledge it as part of ourselves, as part of “who we are”. The reason being, we like to show – to ourselves as well as to others – our “good”, “positive”, “socially-accepted” side.
But, since “the shadow” is nonetheless a part of us, it leads us to be fascinated by gruesome crimes and horror movies; by true-crime movies, books, news and magazine articles. No wonder so many movies are produced around such themes, viewed by millions around the world and earning millions and millions of dollars.
We are attracted to the criminals and the murderers; we are fascinated by stories told about them. Indeed, their world is not ours; their world is a fascinating world all by itself; yet it is a world which makes us drawn towards it, and towards movies and TV. series which are based of such stories – whether fictitious or factual ones.
And this is what is fascinating about Nigel McCrery’s Silent Witnesses: as much as it is based on true crime stories, it reads like a superb fiction, drawing us to keep reading, keep being curious to read more, keep learning more and more about forensic science and the essential part it plays in solving such horrific cases.
And a thought sometimes creeps in some of us, for a minute or two, and we wonder, somewhat consciously (or unconsciously) if it would have been possible for us to commit an unsolvable crime.
Doron Gil, Ph.D. is the author of: The Self-Awareness Guide to a Successful Intimate Relationship