Wednesday, October 30, 2013

forensic fiction

Next month, the Genre Reading Group will be getting in touch with its inner child as we discuss Caldecott Award winners.  The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.  I pulled a selection of the winners from the past 40 years and they will be on display at the 2nd floor Reference Desk until the meeting on Tuesday, November 26th at 6:30pm in the Library's Conference Room.

You will find a complete list of winners by clicking here.

One of our members let us know that a local author will be featured at the Birmingham Museum of Art's First Thursday program, November 7 at 7pm in BMA's lecture hall as part of the Chenoweth lecture series.  Born and raised here in Birmingham, Margaret Wrinkle (writer, film maker, educator, and artist) will present a program on the research and writing of her recent novel, Wash.  For more information, visit BMA's website at

(  In this luminous debut, Margaret Wrinkle takes us on an unforgettable journey across continents and through time, from the burgeoning American South to West Africa and deep into the ancestral stories that reside in the soul. Wash introduces a remarkable new voice in American literature.  In early 1800s Tennessee, two men find themselves locked in an intimate power struggle. Richardson, a troubled Revolutionary War veteran, has spent his life fighting not only for his country but also for wealth and status. When the pressures of westward expansion and debt threaten to destroy everything he’s built, he sets Washington, a young man he owns, to work as his breeding sire. Wash, the first member of his family to be born into slavery, struggles to hold onto his only solace: the spirituality inherited from his shamanic mother. As he navigates the treacherous currents of his position, despair and disease lead him to a potent healer named Pallas. Their tender love unfolds against this turbulent backdrop while she inspires him to forge a new understanding of his heritage and his place in it. Once Richardson and Wash find themselves at a crossroads, all three lives are pushed to the brink.

Last night, the GRG discussed forensic fiction, mysteries/thrillers in which a forensic science is part of the plot and/or its resolution.

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain
(  Portland detective Archie Sheridan spent years tracking Gretchen Lowell, a beautiful and brutal serial killer. In the end, she was the one who caught him…and tortured him…and then let him go. Why did Gretchen spare Archie’s life and then turn herself in? This is the question that keeps him up all night—and the reason why he has visited Gretchen in prison every week since.  Meanwhile, another series of murders is tearing up the Portland streets. Archie seems to be getting closer to solving this high-profile case…until he finds himself in a fatal collision course with the killer—one that inevitably leads him back to his former captor. Gretchen may be the only one who can help do justice. The only thing she can’t do, this time, is save Archie’s life.

The Architect by Keith Ablow
(  West Crosse is a stunningly brilliant, strikingly handsome architect with a love of ideal beauty and a commitment to achieving it at any cost. But the rich, powerful families who secretly engage him to design their homes don't know his dark side: Crosse can't stop at designing their dwellings. He needs to make their lives more perfect, too, even if it means a gut rehab of the family, even if the final design takes years to achieve--murdering an abusive spouse, a toxic lover, a predatory business partner or an unwanted child. As Crosse is about to embark on the master work or his creative life, the FBI puts Frank Clevenger on the case, and the ultimate cat and mouse game begins.

The Dinner by Herman Koch
(  An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives—all over the course of one meal.  It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.  Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman
(  Jonathan Kellerman’s “psychology skills and dark imagination are a potent literary mix” (Los Angeles Times), and this intensely thrilling blend has never been so powerful as in the acclaimed author’s new novel of murder and madness among the beautiful dreamers, seductive predators, and doomed innocents adrift in the glare of Southern California’s eternal sunshine.  A series of horrifying events occur in quick succession in the same upscale L.A. neighborhood. A backyard renovation unearths an infant’s body, buried sixty years ago. And soon thereafter in a nearby park, another disturbingly bizarre discovery is made not far from the body of a young woman shot in the head. Helping LAPD homicide detective Milo Sturgis to link these eerie incidents is brilliant psychologist Alex Delaware. But even the good doctor’s vast experience with matters both clinical and criminal might not be enough to cut down to the bone of this chilling case—and draw out the disturbing truth.

 Backtracking six decades into the past stirs up tales of a beautiful nurse with a mystery lover, a handsome, wealthy doctor who seems too good to be true, and a hospital with a notorious reputation—all of them long gone, along with any records of a newborn, and destined for anonymity. But the specter of fame rears its head when the case unexpectedly twists in the direction of the highest echelons of celebrity privilege. Entering this sheltered world, Alex little imagines the macabre layer just below the surface—a decadent quagmire of unholy rituals and grisly sacrifice.  Before their work is done, Alex and Milo, “the most original whodunit duo since Watson and Holmes” (Forbes), must confront a fanatically deranged mind of such monstrous cunning that even the most depraved madman would shudder.

Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter
(  The killer strikes in plain sight . . . but you'll never see it coming.  The mutilation murder of a young college professor paralyzes a tiny Georgian community. This hideous crime is the worst thing small-town pediatrician and coroner Sara Linton has ever seen—but only when the autopsy is complete is the intricate, terrible genius of a profoundly twisted psychopath truly revealed. As Sara's ex-husband—Heartsdale police chief Jeffrey Tolliver—pursues an elusive fiend, Lena Adams—the victim's sister and the county's only female detective—swears she'll have her personal vengeance. But their worst fears are realized by the macabre crucifixion of a second local woman: there is a serial slayer in their midst, one whose identity is hidden somewhere in Sara Linton's secret past. And this killer has no intention of stopping . . . and will not be stopped.

Bare Bones by Kathy Reichs
(  She works with the dead, but she works for the living.  "Down time" is not a phrase in Tempe Brennan's vocabulary. A string of disturbing cases has put her vacation plans on hold; instead, she heads to the lab to analyze charred remains from a suspicious fire, and a mysterious black residue from a small plane crash. But most troubling of all are the bones. . . . Tempe's daughter's new boyfriend invites them to a picnic -- a pig pickin' -- in the North Carolina countryside, where a cache of bones turns up. But are they animal or human? X-rays and DNA may link the crimes, but they can't reveal who is closing in on Tempe and her daughter -- and how far they will go to keep her from uncovering the truth.

The Bone Collector (the movie) adapted from Jeffrey Deaver's book of the same name
(, THE MOVIE)  Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie star in the gripping suspense thriller The Bone Collector about a serial killer who takes his victims' lives and leaves behind mysterious pieces of a bizarre puzzle. It is now up to Lincoln Rhyme (Washington), a onetime top homicide investigator, who may be the only person who can make sense of his deranged plan. When a tragic accident changes his life forever, Rhyme can only watch as other cops bungle the case...until he teams up with a young rookie, Amelia Donaghy (Jolie), who bravely searches out the clues that could help them solve the case. As the killer senses the cops closing in, Rhyme realizes that he and his partner are on the trail of a vicious, sadistic murderer who will stop at nothing on his deadly mission. At any moment, Rhyme and Amelia could become his next targets - and their first case could become their last.

(, THE BOOK)  New York City is thrown into chaos by the assaults of the Bone Collector, a serial kidnapper and killer who gives the police a chance to save his victims from death by leaving obscure clues. The cops go to Lincoln Rhyme, an ex-NYPD forensics expert left paralysed after an accident on the job. Rhyme reluctantly postpones his ambitions towards suicide and puts together a forensic investigation team, enlisting as his eyes and ears young police officer Amelia Sachs. Rhyme digs deep into the only world he has left - his astonishing mind - and slowly begins to narrow the noose around the Bone Collector. But the kidnapper is narrowing his own noose - around Lincoln Rhyme.

Political Suicide by Michael Palmer
A massive cover-up gone awry
A prominent physician accused of murder
Uncovering the truth could put the entire country at risk

Dr. Gary McHugh, known around Washington, D.C. as the “society doc,” calls his longtime friend Dr. Lou Welcome in a state of panic, certain he is about to be arrested for murder. McHugh was found in an alcoholic blackout in his wrecked car after visiting a patient of his, the powerful Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Elias Colston. Soon after McHugh leaves, Colston’s wife returns home to find her husband shot to death in their garage. McHugh has no recollection of committing the crime and no one who would possibly believe in his innocence, other than Lou. As more facts come to light, even Lou has serious doubts. But something about McHugh’s story nags at him and as he looks into matters, pieces of the puzzle don’t point to his friend’s guilt so definitively.

With the help of Sarah Cooper, an ambitious attorney with her own reasons for hating doctors, Lou finds himself at the center of a deadly, high-level conspiracy where the difference between right and wrong is a matter of interpretation, and the words “whatever it takes” have a chilling meaning. If Lou and Sarah don’t uncover the real reasons Colston is dead, they may not survive themselves, and the entire country could be at risk for attacks that could destroy the very fabric of national security.  Once again, bestselling author Michael Palmer proves that he is the king of suspense in this page-turning thriller, Political Suicide, set at the crossroads of politics, the military, and medical science.

GENERAL DISCUSSION:  Another series of books that bear a resemblance to Jeffrey Deaver's Lincoln Rhymes series, in that the detective solves the crimes despite physical limitations, is Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries.

There are several popular TV series based on some forensic fiction series:

Rizzoli & Isles (Tess Gerritsen)
Castle (Richard Castle)
Bones (Kathy Reichs)

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