An interesting introduction to some of the work of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine.
True crime continues to grow in popularity, both on screen and in the publishing industry. TV personality Meshel Laurie has joined the growing cohort of writers delving into this genre with her book CSI Told You Lies.
Laurie looks into the work of the world-famous Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, mostly through interviews with some of its more famous staff and alumni. Here are such luminaries as: Professor Stephen Cordner, Head of International Programs for the VIFM; Associate Professor Richard Bassed, who spent months helping to identify victims of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia; and Senior Forensic Anthropologist Soren Blau, who can tell you almost anything from a pile of bones. Laurie’s chatty style comes through in her interviews with these amazing people, although at times it reads too much like a podcast transcript and not enough like a book. However, despite that, each of these people, and several others she interviewed, has incredible tales to tell and fascinating information to impart.
Of particular interest is the concept of what is now known as “the CSI effect”. One of the downsides of our hunger for crime television is that we tend to accept the technical details of such shows as CSI as being generally correct. And they aren’t. This might seem of little consequence until one of us gets on a jury. Then, listening to real experts unable to, for example, narrow a person’s time of death down to anything other than a six-hour window, we assume that they are incompetent, because the CSI team could get it down to 30 minutes. Part of what Laurie has set out to do in this work is dispel some of those myths. The book might have flowed better had she structured it around these myths: instead it is partly structured around specific interviews, and partly structured around specific cases. It cries out for some tighter editing, because interesting though the material is, it is presented in a way which is unsatisfyingly rambling.
Some of the cases Laurie looks at are the David Hookes assault, the Black Saturday bushfires, the attack on flight MH17, and the horrific killings of Eurydice Dixon and Aya Maasarwe. She is always respectful of the victims and their families, some of whom she interviews or has written communication with.
Laurie writes well and has pulled together some genuinely interesting research. She is clearly passionate about her subject-matter, and this shines through in the work. Some more rigorous editing in terms of structure, and a less chatty writing style, would have made this a much better piece of work.
CSI Told You Lies is a great addition to the bookshelf of any true-crime afficionado.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Distributed by: Penguin Books
Released: 3 August 2021