Book Cover for Cold CaseJournalist Liz Porter delves into the world of forensic evidence and crime scene investigation.

CSI and NCIS have a lot to answer for. Since landing on air at the beginning of the millennium these TV shows have changed the way the public views crime. Thanks to Grissom and Gibbs, Sidle and Sciutto (and the actors who play them) forensic science has come to the fore and changed the way we think crimes are solved. Gone are the gum-shoe detectives of yesteryear replaced by a new kind of hero… One who is just as likely to be wearing a lab coat as toting a handgun.

Our fascination for all things forensic – from DNA matching to molecular microscopes to fingerprint analysis and CODIS profiles – has also fuelled a fascination for true crime stories on screen and in print.

The latest release to tackle the mysteries of forensic science and true crime capers is Cold Case Files by journalist Liz Porter.

It’s not the first time Porter has mined the world of true crime for inspiration – her first work Written on the Skin – An Australian Forensic Casebook followed scientists, entomologists, pathologists, and chemists as they delved deep into the evidence to solve crimes.

Her latest book sees Porter following a similar path this time she turns her attention upon the science that helped solve a slew of Cold Cases from around the globe. When researching cases to include in the book, Porter says she was drawn to the kind of cases that “most resembled fiction”.

She explains: “If I had chosen to document a selection of the most typical real-life cold cases, I would have had a list of cases in which the culprits of long-unsolved murders and rapes were unmasked by a computer program — the DNA database. Instead, I looked for cases with something extra: if they were solved by DNA they had to contain some ingenious crime scene work or an interesting emotional ‘back story’.

She says like any good story the cases provided a cast of compelling characters to involve the reader. “I loved the fact that the best long-term unsolved cases will come with a built-in cast of characters: grieving relatives, tortured by years of uncertainty about the fate of a loved one; and frustrated detectives, perpetually reproaching themselves over the failure to solve the case the first time. And there’s often a hero: the obsessed detective, suffering the ‘loneliness of the long-distance investigator’ – but winning out in the end.”

It’s a formula that has become familiar thanks to the likes of TV dramas such as Cold Case but just how similar is the truth to the fiction?

“TV doesn’t do a bad job of representing the science that cracks the cases,” says Porter. “But in real life, everything takes so much longer. There are so many more promising-sounding leads that turn out to be dead ends, so many more suspects, so many team members involved – and so many meetings. The logistics of all it has to be simplified, so people can bear to watch it.”

There’ll be no such problem with Porter’s book, it’s a thoroughly engaging read, so what does she hope the reader takes away from Cold Case Files?

What do you hope the reader takes away from reading the book?

“I hope the reader is entertained, and that she also comes away with some admiration for the scientists, detectives, and other investigators (including a librarian and two writers) featured in it. I was so impressed by their dedication, their passion for accuracy, and their inspirational doggedness– I hope my enthusiasm for them is contagious.”

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