Howdunit: Forensics

An insider's guide to forensics that reveals common misconceptions about forensic investigations—usually due to incorrect portrayals in movies and TV dramas. Learn how the science really works!
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Howdunit: Forensics
by D.P. Lyle, M.D.
Writer's Digest, 2008
ISBN: 978-158297-474-3
$19.99 paperback, 448 pages

Read an excerpt!
Read the opening pages of Chapter 5, "Time of Death"

The History of Forensics
Download a web-exclusive time line of the Evolution of Forensic Science.

Learn the Science of Solving Crimes
Just because you don't have the tools and training of a full-time medical examiner doesn't mean you can't learn your way around a crime scene.

In Forensics, award-winning author and TV show consultant D.P. Lyle, M.D., takes each area of forensics—from fingerprint analysis to crime scene reconstruction—and discusses its development, how the science works, and how you as a writer can use the information to craft your plot.

Praise for Forensics
"This is a book about how forensics work in the real world, not the magic performed by characters like Gil Grissom and Horatio Caine. And what you will discover is that the real world of forensics is, perhaps, even more compelling than what we are seeing on television every week."

—Lee Goldberg, TV writer-producer (Diagnosis Murder, Psych, Monk)

About the Author
D. P. Lyle, MD is the Macavity Award winning and Edgar Award nominated author of the nonfiction books Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers, a compilation of the most interesting questions he has received over the years, and Forensics for Dummies, an in-depth look into the world of forensic science. His published fiction includes the thrillers Devil’s Playground and Double Blind. He has worked as a story and technical consultant with many published authors and with the writers and producers of several popular television shows, including Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Cold Case, Peacemakers, House, Medium, and 1-800-Missing.

Through his site, The Writers’ Medical and Forensics Lab ( he works with writers and readers to enrich their understanding of complex medical and forensic issues in the stories they write and read.



Part I: The Forensics System
1: Forensic Science: The History and Organization
2: Evidence: The Heart and Soul of Forensics

Part II: The Coroner and the Body
3: The Autopsy: A Look Inside the Body
4: Identifying the Body: Who Is the Victim?
5: Time of Death: A Critical Part of the Timeline
6: Cause, Mechanism, and Manner of Death: How Did the Victim Die?
7: Bodily Harm: Identifying Wounds
8: Asphyxia: Depriving the Body of Oxygen
9: Serology: Blood and Other Body Fluids
10: DNA: Your Personal Code
11: Toxicology: Drugs, Poisons, and Toxins

Part III: The Crime Scene and the Crime Lab
12: Fingerprints: A Handy Identification Method
13: Bloodstains: Patterns Tell the Story
14: Impressions: Shoes, Tires, and Tools
15: Trace Evidence: Sweating the Small Stuff
16: Firearm Examination: More Than Guns and Ammunition
17: Arson Investigation: Fires and Explosions
18: Questioned Documents: Handwriting and Forgery Examination
19: Criminal Psychology: Assessing the Mind

A Few Final Words
Appendix A: Forensic Science Tools
Appendix B: Forensic Science Timeline


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