A Professional Approach to Murder; Murders Most Foul Will Join Microscopes and Quills at a Conference about How Thriller Writers and Forensic Scientists Can Fight Real Crime. David Charters Reports the BA Festival of Science 6-11 Sept 08

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), August 29, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Professional Approach to Murder; Murders Most Foul Will Join Microscopes and Quills at a Conference about How Thriller Writers and Forensic Scientists Can Fight Real Crime. David Charters Reports the BA Festival of Science 6-11 Sept 08


Byline: David Charters

IT WAS a meeting of promise on a sullen day, whose sweating warmth darkened the cobbles beneath the sinister black hook, which once hoisted goods to the upper storeys of the brick warehouse.

There stood the little lady. She has created some killers down the years - but now her shoulders sloped slightly to the brush of the visitor, whose pearl necklace glowed on lightly-scented skin.

The stranger had come to this place to talk about grim secrets hidden in the soil.

Together, they walked a few yards to the cafe/bar, where an old man, sitting alone, cradled memories in his drink.

And then in the enthusiasm of conversation, the spectacles slipped slowly down the noses of these two women of brilliance, as they faced each other across the altar-white cloth on the table. Both had journeyed through the murk of human depravity.

Suddenly, their eyes fasten on the sugar bowl.

"There are more organisms in a teaspoonful of soil than people living on this planet," says Dr Lorna Dawson. "They are the bacteria, the fungi, the little mites and the protozoa, which live in the water in the pores of the soil and feed on the fungi and are part of the trophic food-web in the soil."

These were the words of the forensic scientist, being heard by Margaret Murphy, the acclaimed crime novelist.

They are working together on two sessions devoted to crime, as part of the British Association for the Advancement of Science's Festival of Science being held in Liverpool between September 6 and 11.

These sessions, on September 9, are to be called Murder, Mystery and Microscopes.

The first runs from 1.30pm to 3.30pm at Liverpool University's main lecture theatre. The second runs from 6pm to 8pm at the Blue Coat chambers, off Church Street.

Participants will analyse areas in which crime fiction and forensic science already overlap, while discussing how they could cooperate more in the future.

Margaret and Lorna will be joined by a splendid team. On the fiction side will be Val McDermid, whose characters include Lindsay Gordon, the lesbian journalist; Kate Brannigan, the private investigator; and Tony Hill, the clinical psychologist, brought to the TV screen in the series Wire in the Blood, starring Robson Green.

With Val and Margaret will be Peter James, prize-winning crime writer and film producer. His novels, include Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead. He was executive producer of the Merchant Of Venice (2004), starring Al Pacino. He also created Bedsitcom (2003) for Channel 4, in which four boys and two girls were brought together to live in a loft apartment, with cameras following their lives.

On the science side are Lorna, senior research scientist and head of the forensic soil group at the Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen; David Miller, spatial geographer from the institute; Professor Sue Black, a forensic anthropologist from Dundee University; Professor Dave Barclay, retired lecturer and a specialist in physical evidence and cold case reviews; and Phil Nobles, an expert in computing forensics from Cranfield University, Befordshire.

Of course, unseen in the room will be such figures as Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Detective Inspector Rebus, Sexton Blake, Inspector Wexford, Adam Dalgleish, perhaps even old Dixon of Dock Green - as well as the ghostly cast below ground, whose departures stimulated both forensic science and crime fiction.

There is nothing we like better in Britain than a good murder to make the fine-china tremble - whether the body is found amid the garbage of an Edinburgh jigger, the gentility of a vicarage, or the spreading burial grounds of Midsomer.

It is probably our favourite form of fiction, but underlying that is reality. Murders do happen and catching the culprits could be vital to our safety.

BUT the forensic scientists, who have made possible huge advances in crime detection, are not always the best communicators of their own findings and knowledge. …

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A Professional Approach to Murder; Murders Most Foul Will Join Microscopes and Quills at a Conference about How Thriller Writers and Forensic Scientists Can Fight Real Crime. David Charters Reports the BA Festival of Science 6-11 Sept 08
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