Crime and Punishment

Staff Picks

Crime and Punishment

Do you enjoy true crime books, police procedurals, or forensic mystery novels? Then these riveting histories that explore criminal investigation, sensational trials, and the use of forensics might be for you.

The Pinks: The First Women Detectives, Operatives, and Spies with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency by Chris Enss The Pinkerton Detective Agency is well known and mythologized in popular historical culture. But the real story of the women who worked for the agency in the second half of the 19th century has been largely untold until now. Starting with Kate Warne who convinced Allan Pinkerton to hire her, Enss masterfully weaves together research pieces to tell a fascinating story about women who stepped out of their traditional sphere to further justice. 

The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms by Kevin Davis
Jumping off with a murder case from 1991, Davis charts the evolution of neuroscience’s use and acceptance in criminal court. The type and amount of brain damage, brain tumors, and PTSD and how they impact actions and free will. Ultimately the question is how far can neuroscience go to truly explain behavior and how willing is society to accept it in criminal proceedings. 

The Third Degree: The Triple Murder that Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice by Scott D. Seligman The right not to incriminate ourselves if arrested is so ingrained in popular culture that it is easy to forget that as a legal right it is relatively recent. An engaging tale of investigation and corruption, The Third Degree takes us back to the very beginnings of the battle for that right and shows how some of the most famous names in legal history are connected to a triple murder in D.C. in the early 20th century and how that ultimately led to the Miranda rights that have become so well known. 

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
In an era of CSI and other forensic-based legal shows, The Poisoner’s Handbook takes readers back to the 1920s and charts the path of forensic testing for poison and its induction into criminal justice. Chief Medical Examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler fought not only to prove and disprove murder charges using the fast-growing science experiments but also to regulate everyday substances that were killing unaware people. 

Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA, and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid
Fingerprinting, ballistics, and DNA were all once viewed skeptically by the public and by the courts. Mystery author McDermid uses real cases, mostly from the United Kingdom, and excellent research to illustrate the impact of these and other forensic techniques on solving crimes, how the techniques were discovered or developed, and ultimately how they came to be accepted and even expected in criminal court.