In this book, Gibson talks about really old cases such as Socrates and more recent ones like Caylee Anthony. Each chapter discusses a step in the process to solve crimes by using plants. But plants are not the only topic.
We learn about bodily fluids, wood patterns, how plant growth can help establish the time of death, and how that can be used to scan databases when we search for the missing.
We learn how plants can show us whether someone drowned or was already dead when they were released into the water. We also see how various methods were developed to get to the bottom of a case. This ranges from watching flowers wilt to measuring mold on food.
Some parts are hard to read if your background is not in biology or botany. I struggled at times. Then another case popped up and I was drawn back into the book. The main picture that you must keep in mind when you read this book is Edmond Locard‘s Exchange Principle.
The Exchange Principle is that a criminal brings something to the crime scene(s) and takes something away. In other words, where they were before the crime happened leaves traces at the crime scene. Where the criminal went after the crime, that’s where we can find materials from the crime scene or scenes. But that is not enough. You also need to connect the victim to your person of interest, the crime scene(s) and the evidence to get a conviction.
Gibson has chosen to not introduce cases by mentioning the victims’ names and/or location. The reader is thus not distracted by prior knowledge of the case. However, at times it made sense to me to start exactly with what we know. Names, dates, and locations that trigger the reader’s memory can help to better understand what Gibson is explaining about the forensic evidence that closed the case.
In the beginning, I went to the back of the book to check the endnotes. I was hoping to quickly find those identifiers to trigger my own memory. Alas, the endnotes provide only sources but no quick note to help the reader identify a case. I guess this is a personal choice. To make the book more accessible to true crime readers, it would help to have a list of mentioned cases just like we have a plant index in the back.
The book has black and white photography throughout the text, four pages with colored photographs, a glossary, endnotes, credits, and aside from a cross-referenced index, a species index.
Recommended reading for those interested in biology, forensic sciences, botany, and crime solving.
Note: I received a copy of this book from Oxford University Press in exchange for an honest review. My other book reviews are here.