Crimebusters by Clive Gifford

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Crimebusters by Clive Gifford

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Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: An informative resume of the various strands of evidence used to solve crimes, together with real life stories and practical experiments to try at home. Ideal for CSI buffs and as interesting extra-curricular reading material for those who don't like fiction.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 64 Date: March 2007
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0199114948

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As any fan of CSI or one of the other in the multitude of other forensic procedural TV dramas can tell you, catching criminals today is as much about scientists and laboratories as it is about sleuthing and detectives with flashes of amazing insight. Fictionally, it's an incredibly popular field. Educationally, it's a great way to catch the interest of children in both science and the new compulsory discipline of citizenship. Even reluctant readers of fiction will give something that tells you how to take fingerprints a go.

Crimebusters is a round-up of a criminal investigation from start to finish. It begins with the crime scene, takes us through finger print and bullet identification, pollen, hair and dust evidence, through ways of spotting forgeries and on to some of the most high-tech uses of science in finally wrapping up the case against a criminal. Even I thought it was as at least as interesting as the programmes on TV! I certainly can't retrieve it from my sons (currently fingerprinting themselves in the kitchen whilst using up all my cocoa powder) to write this review, so you're getting it from memory. Luckily, I was advised to be very observant whilst reading.

The cocoa powder-fingerprint experiment is just one of several slipped in to break up the narrative. In another, children can use apples to identify the characteristics of their bite marks, another has them testing cooling temperatures in order to pin down the time of a crime, and another uses red cabbages to perform a simple acid/base test. These and the other "investigate" ideas particularly excited my two. The next CSI franchise will, I'm sure, be CSI Devon. Also breaking up the narrative are real life case stories - the Unabomber, the Hitler Diaries forger, the Lindbergh kidnapper - all nicely abridged to feature the particular aspect of forensics used to trap the suspect.

The narrative itself is clear and concise and treads a fairly difficult path between over-simplification and over-complication very nicely. Neither does Crimebusters ever slip into "hang 'em and flog 'em" mode, something that had worried me a little before I read it. Illustrations are plentiful, interesting, useful and relevant.

I expect the biggest market for Crimebusters will be school libraries. It's just the sort of book my own children would borrow. Outside school though, it's definitely worth borrowing from your usual library and if your child particularly likes forensic-themed TV programmes or is a reluctant reader of fiction, it's probably worth buying too.

Thanks to the publisher, OUP, for sending the book.

Young people interested in crime might enjoy Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, a fictional unravelling of the age old mystery of the Princes in the Tower.

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