When criminologists are wrong

Fingerprints are unique and for this reason are considered the most effective method to establish the identity of a person together with the analysis of DNA, which is much more difficult to find at the crime scene. But, unlike DNA which is compared by means of an instrumental procedure giving a response on which, except in case of manipulations of the sample, there are no doubts (even if it only provides a statistic), the examination of fingerprints is instead performed visually by a person. The computer can select some possible profiles that display similarities with the fingerprint found at the scene, but then the criminologist is the one carrying out a visual comparison and making a decision.

We know that the human factor always has a margin of error, yet we have realised that this can be true even in the context of the comparison of fingerprints only when some sensational cases of miscarriages of justice occurred.

One of the most famous concerns the terrorist attack in Madrid in 2004. A plastic bag containing detonators was found at the scene. A latent fingerprint was detected on it, which was then digitised and transmitted to Interpol. The automated comparison with the database of the latter had provided twenty results. Among them there was one that, according to an FBI fingerprint expert, presented a very high match, so much to bring them to say they had found the owner of the fingerprint detected at the scene. This conclusion was later confirmed by two more experts both from FBI.
The fingerprint was of a Canadian, called Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim lawyer, married with an Egyptian woman. The man denied having anything to do with the attack, but was still arrested according to the discovery of his fingerprint.
Some time later another independent expert confirmed for the fourth time the conclusion of FBI, but shortly after the Spanish police claimed they had found the real culprit, the owner of that fingerprint (an Algerian, who was later incriminated for the bombing). Because of this, Mayfield, who really had nothing to do with the case, was released.

The question that arises is: how is it that four experts were convinced that the fingerprint found at the scene was his? After considering this, how much can you trust the use of fingerprints to establish the guilt of anyone?
And this case is not even the only one, although it is the most impressive.

Another one, for example, occurred in the UK, where a fingerprint was found at the scene of a murder (the victim’s name was Marion Ross) and was then assigned to a detective (Shirley McKie) who actually worked at the case. You might think about a typical example of unintentional contamination of the scene by the police, but the detective had never entered the bathroom where the fingerprint was detected and, since she continued to affirm that, she was accused of perjury and lost her job.
Then they realized that the fingerprint wasn’t hers. There had been, in fact, a human error by the criminologist who had performed the comparison. The detective regained her job, but at the same time as the real culprit of the murder had been found (his name was David Asbury) again thanks to a fingerprint, the court did not accept the latter as evidence and he was released.
Again in this case a mistake was made, with the aggravating circumstance that it’d had a further negative consequence: that of making the real culprit be released.

How many more errors like these are made and never revealed? How many people have been exonerated or, worse, incriminated and maybe imprisoned because of these mistakes?
We don’t know, but certainly all this highlights how the use of fingerprints or other physical evidence, whose identification depends largely or exclusively on a decision taken by a human, might not give certainties at all.

Of course you can reduce the margin of error with appropriate precautions.
In Mayfield’s case the error was probably due to the fact that all experts involved knew that the man was a Muslim (which can cause a prejudice) and with McKie the fact that she worked the case (other prejudice), but also that those repeating the comparison after the first one were aware of the previous conclusion of their colleagues (comparisons should be blind).

All this concerns reality, which once again looks much more grudging of certainty than fiction.
I honestly cannot remember a single film, novel or TV series in which the criminologist on duty made a mistake with the identification of a fingerprint’s owner. In fiction these professionals are shown as infallible, and if there is a mistake, it is due to a manipulation of the scene by the offender or is voluntary.
The latter cases include the story of Dexter Morgan, main character of the TV series titled “Dexter” (and the books by Jeff Lindsay from which the former is developed), the forensic haematologist who often alters his conclusions or manipulates evidence during investigations to cover his own actions as serial killer, or to ensure that a certain person isn’t arrested so that he could kill them.

In short, fiction tends to enhance the cunning of the protagonists, and defects, when they exist, never concern their job. Typically the investigator drinks (or even uses drugs), eats little, sleeps little or nothing, and maybe doesn’t even wash himself, but when it comes to investigate a murder he is always very clear headed!
An example of this cliché is the series of books by Michael Connelly starring Detective Harry Bosch, from which in recent years the TV series “Bosch” has been produced by Amazon Studios.
In the second book, “Black Ice”, there is a mistake in the identification of a fingerprint’s owner, but it is something voluntary and orchestrated to distract the investigations and not a simple mistake made by those who made the comparison.
Human error without an ulterior motive doesn’t work so much in fiction, perhaps because it is too realistic.

I must admit that while writing the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy I haven’t used and don’t intend to use such errors by the main characters. Sometimes they may miss a detail (because this is useful to the plot), but never fail a comparison of a fingerprint. The errors at best are made by the antagonist.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t exploit the human factor. Detective Shaw, in fact, uses this type of vulnerability in forensic science to domesticate evidence, as it happens in the case of Johnson in “The Mentor”, in which Shaw causes that the man’s fingerprints are detected on the murder weapon to induce him to confess.
But what if following his own instincts he would aim to the wrong person? Let’s consider that he is absolutely sure that he had found the culprit and forces the situation by manipulating evidence so that this person cannot escape justice.
What if, some time later, maybe years later, something would turn up that casts doubt on the validity of that belief?

This is the possible doubt that I will explore in the final book in the series, “Beyond the Limit”.

Bones: skeletons, brains, and irony

All photos are © FOX TV.
In the investigative series scene, “Bones” has the originality to present for the first time on TV a forensic anthropologist, i.e. Dr. Temperance Brennan, played by Emily Deschanel.
Although the series presents a pair of main characters, with FBI Special Agent Seely Booth who would at least be officially in charge of the investigation in each case, the fact is that Brennan, who he calls just Bones and considers his partner (although she doesn’t belong to the bureau), is the one to be personally involved in their resolution.

I discovered this series when it arrived on Sky TV in 2008 (in Italy), out of curiosity, following David Boreanaz from his previous show, “Angel” (the vampire cursed with a soul from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, which I have never watched) and it immediately got me.
I loved the character of Brennan, extremely intelligent, pragmatic, rational, saying what she thought without filters, in practice a former nerd become successful, but without falling into a simplistic cliché. Brennan was brilliant both for her talent and the fact that it had been sharpened by the intense study and almost obsessive passion for the latter. I must say that in my small way, being myself a person tending towards perfectionism, I used to identify in her. These characteristics made her unpredictable - you didn’t know what she would say or do in each episode - and almost magical. In fact, with a simple look at the bones of the victims she could determine gender, race, sometimes age, and even the type of job they used to do.
The one between her and Agent Booth - intuitive, emotional, and a believer - was therefore an increasingly challenging conflict that kept the interest high, regardless of the individual cases.

As the seasons went on, something has necessarily changed. The two characters have come to interact until the obvious romantic outcome and the differences between the two have been blunted. As I said, it was necessary, because in so many seasons you could not expect to keep the same pattern, which would eventually become repetitive and boring, once exhausted the initial surprise, but maybe it’s also one of the reasons why such stories work better in a shorter context, such as movies and miniseries.

Faced with this change, the writers have done their best to increase the interest in the other characters, whose subplots are well-finished, while the various crimes have always been a bit in the background.
Exceptions are some stories that were spread across multiple episodes, such as the cannibal serial killer Gorgomon in the third season or evil hacker Christopher Pelant, who even appears in three of them (the seventh, eighth, and ninth), and of course the fact that each season tends to end with a cliff-hanger, thus ensuring that the story is resumed at the beginning of the next one.
The remaining episodes are stand-alone, and except for small elements of the subplots, missing some of them has almost no effect on the general understanding of the series.

The sum of the merits and defects of “Bones” has caused it to be renewed from year to year and now it has come to a twelfth season, which will also be the final one. No doubt it is therefore considered a successful series that reached its physiological term.

As many know, the character of Temperance Brennan owes its name to the protagonist of the series of novels by Kathy Reichs.
Actually the bond is quite weak, because the two characters have as common element, apart from the name, just the job of forensic anthropologist. None of the episodes comes from a specific novel. Indeed, it seems that the basic idea came from the project of a documentary on Reichs, who is in fact a forensic anthropologist, and then Brennan from “Bones” would be more like a transposition of the author on the small screen. Moreover, at one point in the series, Brennan began writing novels, whose protagonist is named Kathy Reichs, stirring even more reality and fiction. Reichs also says that the series could be seen as a prequel of her novels, since her Brennan is older than the character played by Deschanel.
Anyway you look at it, we are faced with a mixture of fiction, TV, and real life, which makes, if possible, “Bones” even more original.

Forensic science is, however, so quickly shown that, in my opinion, does not offer particularly interesting insights. The presence of physical evidence is functional to the killer’s discovery and the latter is facilitated by alternative technologies, actually science fiction ones, which have the purpose of entertaining, often through the comic element, rather than to let the public learn a particular scientific aspect.

Then there are a few interesting guest stars, like Ryan O’Neal in the role of Brennan’s father with a criminal past or the pop star Cyndi Lauper, who plays a psychic, - both recurring characters - and a good dose of dark humour, that hovers in all seasons, lightening the heavy themes.
In each episode there is, in fact, least one fleshless and/or dismembered corpse, but it is always represented in a not too gruesome manner, avoiding to keep the emphasis on the evident brutality of the crimes, even if the vision to children is far from recommended.
The whole is topped, in my opinion, with an excessive righteousness (typical of mainstream TV) and a clear distinction between what is absolutely right and what is absolutely wrong, leaving no room to the existence of intermediate situations, which are normal in the real world.

It is still a fun series that you watch without force yourself to too many reflections and that, like it or not, brings you to follow it to the end.

New year, new resolutions: 2017

Another year is gone, again! I think that it happens to everyone, and increasingly as you grow older, to have the impression, at the end of a year, that it passed a bit too quickly. We had just used to this 2016 and now we have to reset our minds with a new figure: 2017.

I have to tell the truth: for once, the year now drawing to a close did not seem short to me. When I think of everything I’ve done, how much I’ve been working, these twelve months seemed to never end. Maybe it’s because for once I was waiting for this end, as it corresponds to the almost total completion of all my projects in progress, but also to the end of my first five years as self-publisher.
On 3 January, it will in fact be the fifth anniversary of the day when I started the first draft of “Red Desert - Point of No Return“ (in Italian) with the clear intention to publish it independently.
Actually, this anniversary should be celebrated on 7 June, the official release date of my first non-free book, but for this reason I decided to use the five months between these two dates to do a better analysis of my self-publishing experience and define which way to direct my future efforts. And it was perhaps the impatience to begin this particular period to make me feel like 2016 were a really long year.
Just to confirm my tendency to never be able to stop at all, my wait will still last for another two weeks, which is the time I need to finish the first draft of “Beyond the Limit” (original title: “Oltre il limite”). This time it’s not my fault: the book is coming out a bit longer than I thought (it’s my characters’ fault!), which I do not mind at all.

Anyway, back to 2016, let’s see what I’ve done:
- I completed the revision of the translation for the first part of “Saranythia”, the next novel by Richard J. Galloway;
- I have translated and published “Kindred Intentions;
- It wrote the second and the third part of “Ophir. Living Code” (in Italian; for a total word count of about 90,000, in addition to 45,000 of the first part written in 2015);
- I prepared from scratch a University course, entitled “Self-publishing Laboratory in multimedia systems”, which I then taught on May at the University of Insubria (Varese) within the scope of the degree course in Communication Sciences;
- I edited “Syndrome (in Italian), the second book in the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy, and I published it in Italian on 21 May;
- I edited “Ophir. Living code”, the third part in the Aurora Saga and the chronological sequel of RedDesert, and I published it in Italian on 30 November;
- I wrote about 90,000 words (of which 50,000 during NaNoWriMo in November, which I won) of “Beyond the limit”, the final book in the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy, which I will publish in Italian on 21 May 2017;
- I participated as a guest to four more events, beside the course in Varese: a conference on self-publishing and science communication at Journalist Profession Festival on 19 March in Bologna, a conference on the future of publishing on 3 May, again in Varese, a presentation of my books (the Detective Shaw Trilogy and “Ophir. Living Code”) on 2 December in Iglesias and a conference in Rome on self-publishing on 10 December as part of the Italian small and medium publishing fair titled Più Libri Più Liberi. In these situations I had the opportunity to meet again some old friends, colleagues, and readers, but also to make contact with new interesting people;
- I read 52 books.

The above includes nearly all the resolution that I had listed a year ago, plus one of those which did not depend on my will (the course at the University of Insubria) and the offline events, which however I hadn’t expected.

What wasn’t I able to do?
Well, I didn’t finish the first draft of another novel (“Beyond the Limit”), but this is not a failure, because it’s just proving longer than expected (I assumed that it had a length of 80,000 words, but I wrote about 90,000 so far and it is not finished yet). Indeed, in 2016 I wrote more words than in 2015, although not an entire novel in twelve months, because I finished one and started another, both very long.
I managed, as always, to set aside a lot of notes for new future novels, whose list continues to grow, but I have not prepared any specific outline. This is due to the fact that last June, while feeling overworked and stressed, I made the decision to not start any new project, until I finished all those in progress, in order to wait for the first five months of 2017, which among other things will be dedicated to an evaluation of these five years and the identification of new goals. For this reason I don’t consider this a failure either, but rather a reasoned change of my plans.

Finally I really wanted to work hard to keep an upward trend in sales.
Certainly I worked hard, and among other things I’m very glad of the experiments done during past summer with new series of articles on my blog (this is referred to my Italian blog, but I’m now translating the articles here too), which had an interesting return in terms of sales, and various short discounted promotions carried out at the same time on Google Play and Amazon. I also tried a number of paid promotion techniques, which have been less satisfactory as return on investment, but they have allowed me to understand what is worth doing and what is not.
Moreover I committed to optimize the work I do to ensure my presence on the social networks, in order to maintain it constant or even more assiduous, but reducing the time employed in doing so (no, I haven’t succeeded in altering the space-time, or maybe I have?).
Concerning my incomes related to self-publishing, unfortunately they didn’t increase if compared to 2015, but however they are better than in the previous year, so I’m not complaining, also considering that in 2016 I have not been able to take any special advantage from external promotions (even if I had some of them with my non self-published book, “The Mentor”) and also that I have been busy with too many things, which didn’t leave me the time to have any more good ideas and to put them into practice.
In spite of all that, I have always maintained a minimal base of total sales, independently from everything else, also in the periods in which I did just nothing, which still induces me to ponder on finding the best way to manage my efforts.

As I said a year ago, in fact, the most important thing as an author is that creativity stays active and you always manage to write something of which you are proud.
2016 was marked by periods when my desire to write bordered zero, despite I never stopped doing it to keep up with deadlines (a friend I met at the event in Bologna in March called me military, in reference to my iron discipline!). But I’m very pleased with the results, specifically for “Ophir. Living Code“, which has exceeded my wildest expectations (I refer to my personal liking of the finished book). Moreover, the fatigue I suffered showed me that, if I decide to write, I just do it. For a writer, who lives barely keeping afloat in a sea of ​​doubts, having such confidence in their own ability is a great consolation.
In addition, over the past two months, during the writing of “Beyond the Limit”, thanks to NaNoWriMo, which prompted me to write a new book even if I did not think I was ready yet to do so (nor I had any desire), I rediscovered the pleasure of living inside the characters and let them show me the story. I’m still with them right now and I’m a little sorry at the thought of abandoning them forever at the end of this journey, since this is the final book in a series.
So, no doubt, I’m concluding this year with great optimism.

You may wonder: what about the money?
In 2015 my publishing activity had been my main source of income.
In 2016, although for obvious reasons I didn’t gain the same figures as the previous year, when “The Mentor” was on the first positions of the Kindle Store on Amazon.com, the total royalties I received were such as to allow me to say that I’m still making a living from my writing.
The real challenge will be to succeed with it again in 2017.

There are two resolutions that I wasn’t really able to achieve in this year, but they depended on factors and people outside of my control.
The first was to have one of my books published in another language (beside “Kindred Intention”) or to sell the translation rights for a publication in the next year, but I’m still working hard to achieve this result and waiting for some developments that still require a bit of time. It remains one of my long-term goals.
The second concerned being able to exploit “The Mentorto maintain a certain financial security for the foreseeable future. It got it for this year, but not enough for those that will follow, because the previous resolution didn’t become true and the book is now too old to allow me to earn directly from it in the future.

But now let’s see my resolutions for 2017. They are few (so to speak) for the moment.
Here they are:
1) Complete (within the first two weeks of January) the first draft of “Beyond the Limit” (in Italian), edit and publish it on 21 May 2017. I want to give my best for this book and to do so I decided to not write any novel until its publication (save sudden inspirations, the kind that leave no escape, accompanied by free time, which is completely unexpected and therefore equally unlikely);
2) Reserve four weeks of total rest from any publishing activity (starting from mid-January) to recharge my batteries, after years that I do not stop, except for short breaks;
3) Teach again the course of self-publishing, in a version updated to the latest changes in the market, at the University of Insubria (save for bureaucratic problems not depending on my will). I’d like to teach a version of this course in other scopes, to give even more my contribution to raise awareness and grow self-publishing in Italy and educate new self-publishers, and perhaps I could have the opportunity to do so, but for the moment I avoid any anticipation;
4) Commit myself to participate in multiple events to promote the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy. I love these three books and I want to reach a larger number of readers, but I especially realise that they did not receive from me all the attention they deserved to achieve certain results, even “The Mentor”, which has sold very well. This has to change. So far I have written so much (I’m finishing my twelfth book). Now is the time to give more space to what I have already published. I owe it to my characters. And this is especially true from my non science fiction thrillers, which I tend to overlook if compared to the books on the genre thanks to which I’m popular here in Italy (science fiction);
5) Dedicate more time to FantascientifiCast (it’s the most important Italian podcast about science fiction), to which I owe my popularity in science fiction in Italy and that should be the means to continue to let my voice (literally) be heard in this context and reach new potential readers;
6) Read at least 52 books;
7) Schedule enough posts on my (Italian and English) blog early in the year, so that I don’t have to write them all at the last moment, when I have little time;
8) Arrange my time so I’m more efficient when I work, thanks to the fact that I devote a greater amount of time to rest, physical activity, and leisure (mainly cultural one, in all its forms, including knowledge obtained with travels);
9) Write much, possibly more than I did this year (say, about 200,000 words), but only what I wish to write, like in the last weeks;
10) Analyse the work of these five years and focus on my own unique way to be a self-publisher, not force me in any way to search for and copy alleged winning methods by others (as I always say: there are no magic formulas) since everyone has their own way to get readers and to reach their own definition of success. It’s one thing I know and that I try to teach others, but sometimes I tend to forget it, when it comes to myself.

Well, I think that’s all. What do you think?
I have been deliberately vague on some aspects, because I will have a better idea in the next six weeks, so I’m not able to put any more items in this list.
In general, as I already expected a year ago, it’s time to make an evaluation of my activities as an author and self-publisher, but I’m happy to do it, because I know that they will generate the embryo of new interesting goals and adventures to be lived in order to pursue them.

Again, at the end of this year I want to close this post thanking my family, my friends, my team, and my readers, who continue to stand by me as indispensable companions of my business and personal journey.
Thank you all.

And as always, I ask you all reading this blog to reveal your resolutions for the new year, here in the comments or on social networks.

Has 2016 been as you wanted? What do you wish for 2017?

Memoirs of a Spacewoman - Naomi Mitchison

**** Weird, but fun

Classic science fiction is a diverse world that has in store interesting discoveries. One of these is undoubtedly “Memoirs of a Spacewoman” by Naomi Mitchison, a strange and crazy book where a woman astronaut tells the story of which she is the protagonist in plain language.
The author shows an exaggerated fantasy as she invents bizarre worlds and aliens, and weaves unpredictable plots within each episode narrated. The main character is Mary, an expert in communications who has the opportunity to put into practice her knowledge in various ways. The style is conversational, giving the impression that Mary is telling you her life, while you have a good conversation.
In general I liked the book, otherwise I would not have given four stars, but there are some aspects that prevented me to add the fifth.
Unfortunately the passing of time is evident (the novel is from 1962), especially in the absurd way in which sex life is imagined in the future. Apparently, it is considered “modern” or “futuristic” for people to have sex with the only purpose to procreate, but not necessarily to create a stable relationship (someone else takes care of the children), and that the entertainment part related to sex is out of fashion, because everyone is busy exploring worlds and doing scientific research. Sex for women becomes a pastime that serves to make children in large numbers (it’s not clear how this could be acceptable, given the overpopulation) by various fathers. And that’s all. The maximum you can expect is that, after a certain age, when they retire, they decide to take one of these fathers as definitive companion.
What a sad thing!
Additionally to this aspect that made extremely difficult to me to suspend my disbelief, there is the colloquial style, which doesn’t favour your identification with the protagonist’s mind.
It is still an interesting and enjoyable read, especially for those who love to immerse themselves in a bit naive and “vintage” science fiction, and realise how much this genre can be varied and how it has evolved over the years.

John Grisham: the king of legal thriller

I don’t remember exactly when I happened to read my first book by John Grisham, nor which one it was, but it certainly was at the beginning of the nineties and soon he became one of my favourite authors. To date as I check the long list of his novels, if you exclude the children series Theodore Boone and some of which I saw the film version (and that’s why I left them aside for now), I find that I haven’t read only six, including the short story collection “Ford County” and one of his sports novels, that don’t interest me particularly.

Grisham is a real lawyer who in the late 80s decided to try his hand at writing with “A Time to Kill”, a novel which was adapted into a famous movie with Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Kevin Spacey. His second novel, “The Firm” (this also became a movie, starring Tom Cruise, and more recently a TV series, to which the poster below is referred), became a bestseller and marked the beginning for him to a drastic change of career.

His books are labelled as legal thrillers, but in fact what really unites them is the fact that within them there is almost always a legal element (the result of his background) that is only used as an excuse to tell the stories of people. Some of his novels have actually a rhythm, a suspense, and the ending expected in thrillers, especially the first part of its production, but going forward in his career Grisham has increasingly often written stories focused on a moral and with a realistic ending and, therefore, not always entirely positive for the protagonists. The latter category includes novels like “The Testament” or “The Appeal”.

Grisham has also tried to move away entirely from the legal topic with “Skipping Christmas”, “Bleachers”, and “Playing for Pizza”. The first might be called a humour novel, although I admit I hated the ending, which I didn’t find funny at all. The second is strongly focused on football (the US meaning of this word), a sport that I barely know, and this hasn’t allowed me to appreciate it that much. I decided not to read the third one (or, if I read it, I must have removed it from my mind!), because it’s about the same topic.

A Painted House”, published in 2001, belongs to literary fiction, although the legal topic makes a small appearance. It is a very special novel, since the story is told by a seven-year-old child. The author wrote it well before he became famous and, thanks to his fame, he could later have it published.
I remember reading this book in the period when it was published and having particularly liked it. It opened my eyes to the talent of Grisham in the narrator’s role that goes beyond the labels affixed to his novels.

My favourite of his work is, without a doubt, “The Runaway Jury”, which is definitely a legal thriller. The story is about a lawsuit filed against a cigarette manufacturer on behalf of the wife of a man, a smoker, died of lung cancer. Beside this topic of great interest is the legal theme developed by the plot: the dynamics of a jury in a lawsuit of this kind, since its formation up to all the intrigues for steering the verdict.
From this novel a movie with John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Dustin Hoffman, and Gene Hackman was then produced.
If you have never read a book by Grisham, this is definitely the one that I recommend.
My latest reading of his, however, is “Sycamore Row”, where the legal subject is accompanied by that of racism, already seen in “A Time to Kill”, of which it is a kind of sequel.

Among my reviews you can find in this blog, I suggest: “TheLitigators”, “TheConfession”, and “TheAssociate”.

Finally, I tell you a little fun fact. Grisham and I, despite being so distant to each other as authors, both for topics and, above all, for copies sold (!), have however become rivals for the second place in the US Kindle Store towards the end of last October 2015, I with my “The Mentor” and he with his “Rogue Lawyer”. Of course, then between the two books there was also another negligible difference: his book cost over seven times mine (which at that time was promoted at a low price)!
However, being up there with him, who is one of the authors from whom I always draw inspiration, was a great emotion that I did not think I would have ever had the good fortune to experience.

DNA and fingerprints don’t lie

One of the phrases that you hear most often in TV series that deal with forensic science is that evidence, unlike people, doesn’t lie. A variation of this statement is that the dead (their bodies), unlike the living, don’t lie. The gist of it is always the same: physical evidence includes the answer to find the author of a crime (Mac Taylor from “CSI: NY” seems to have so many of them available in the photo), you just have to find them and interpret them correctly.
In reality, however, most of the physical evidence that is found at the scene of a crime doesn’t allow to uniquely identify a person, is subject to the problem of contamination, and therefore can at most serve as supporting evidence to prosecution, but isn’t sufficient to send someone to jail.

The identification of a person (who is guilty or otherwise involved in a crime) can be successfully accomplished, in the absence of witnesses (which, however, can lie!), only if it involves some items found on the scene that belong exclusively to that person, actually, that are part of that person.
These are the biometric identifiers. There are two categories of them. The first includes physiological characteristics, such as fingerprints, DNA, facial, iris or retina recognition. The second relates to behavioural characteristics, such as gait, voice or handwriting.
These identifiers are typical of a specific person, but some of them are even unique and stable throughout life, and may be left at the scene of a crime.
I’m obviously talking about fingerprints and DNA.

In reality finding this type of physical evidence that can be used to identify the culprit is quite difficult. Fingerprints, in particular, are everywhere at a crime scene and are often so incomplete and numerous that they cannot be used, unless they are found on the murder weapon. DNA is even rarer to spot. For both of them you must still do a comparison to determine their origin (for example, taking a sample of cells from the mouth of a suspect, like Greg Sanders from “CSI” is doing in the photo, next to a character played by Justin Bieber), but there are also databases (however, a still limited number of countries has a DNA database), therefore from a fingerprint or a blood trace found on the scene of a crime you can, at least in theory, trace back to a person, although this person has not yet been connected to the case.

This is a rare case where fiction resembles reality.
Even in fiction it’s unlikely that the culprit leaves behind fingerprints and DNA that can be used, but the reason is that, if they did, the case would be solved too quickly and there would be no story to tell!
This doesn’t mean that this kind of evidence doesn’t appear in TV series, films, and books. Far from it.
In fiction, fingerprints and DNA are almost always found during the investigation, but they belong to someone who is not directly guilty, which, possibly, tends to send off-road criminologists and investigators and to distract the reader/viewer.
But once again fiction highlights the absolute value of this type of evidence (well, it does so even with fibres and paint!), without considering some issues that affect them.

For example, while watching a typical episode of “CSI” you will have the impression that if you enter a fingerprint found on the scene in the computer you just need a short time to get a single finding: the one of the fingerprint’s owner.
It isn’t so at all. Apart from the fact that the time isn’t short at all but depends on the size of the database, you should also consider that the computer could deliver much more than one probable finding and none of them will be a 100% match. This is the moment when the expert intervenes and makes a visual comparison between the footprint available and the one in the database, to determine if they actually match and perhaps exclude some results, if not all. It’s a human being the one who makes this decision and, as such, may make mistakes.
Yet both in fiction and in reality (in this regard I will present some outrageous mistakes in the next article of this series) the fingerprint is considered an overwhelming proof, since there aren’t two people in the world with the same, identical fingerprints.

DNA is even more overwhelming. Here too it depends on its uniqueness (except for monozygotic twins), but not everyone knows that the DNA analysis doesn’t give an absolute result. In this case, the human factor isn’t involved, because the analysis speaks for itself, but its results are statistical in nature, since obviously you don’t analyse the whole available gene pool, but only a certain number of loci. It is likewise true that the probability that samples of two different people (not twins) returns the same profile is as low as to be considered zero.
So yes, DNA is a proof that doesn’t leave room to doubt, whether it is reality or fiction, except that in the latter its detection and its analysis is simplified and they often take place in a ridiculously short time.
At the end, the criminologist is all smiles with a sheet (or a tablet) in his hands and goes to his boss to show them the result, after making the analysis and the comparison to the database within a half-hour. But then you have to hurry, because the case should be closed within the day and this proof will be only one of the many which will make the characters come closer to the solution, though without being the solution itself.

Even in the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy I used fingerprints and DNA. In “The Mentor” I talk about a case of tampering of fingerprints, which the protagonist uses to push a suspect to confess. In “Syndrome”, however, the fingerprints on a murder weapon will be an important element in the identification of the culprit. I cannot go into details, you must read the book to learn more (it isn’t available yet in English, sorry!), but I can say that I explained how the fingerprints were collected and that there are different ways to do that according to when they were created.

The first, which is also the most common one in fiction, is when you brush a dark powder on a surface to reveal any latent fingerprints (like in the photo above with Eric Delko from “CSI: Miami”).
In reality (and also in my books) this powder is called silver-grey and is actually used for this purpose to highlight the papillary lines, those that have been imprinted on smooth surfaces mostly due to the presence of sebaceous material on the fingertips (in “Syndrome” I took yet another small licence, indicating a surface on which it is generally not easy to detect fingerprints, but I was deliberately vague, suggesting that it was really smooth or assuming that criminologists, as usual, were lucky). This method is used only if the prints are relatively recent, but, if they date back to more than two or three days, they may have dried up, so it is necessary to use a chemical called ninhydrin, which reacts with the amino acids present in the sweat, generating a visible colouring.

Also DNA makes its appearance in my series (on blood stains in “Syndrome”) and again, in the best tradition of fiction, it is used mostly for reshuffling the cards and complicating the job of the protagonists.

But, if nothing else, I can say I gave a touch of realism by showing that they had to wait at least a few days before getting the result of its analysis.

The Bourne Ultimatum - Robert Ludlum

***** The showdown of Bourne

Sumptuous finale of the trilogy. Although intricate, the plot is less difficult to follow than the ones of the first and second book. Maybe this aspect may be considered a flaw, according to my personal tastes (I prefer having to struggle a bit to follow the plot of a book), but it’s compensated by the abundance of events and the unpredictability of the story.
I believe that the best among the three books is the second, but they are all top-notch. And most importantly, they are addictive. I regretted having to slow down the reading for lack of time and this prevented me from fully enjoy the novel.
Here Ludlum uses all his inventive, multiplying the places and the action scenes. The final battle with the Jackal and especially the place where it happens are epic.
Too bad that the character of Marie appears only in the central part of the book and that she isn’t involved in the scene representing the climax of the novel, only to reappear in the epilogue.
The latter is a bit melancholic. Although I know that there are more books about Bourne, I also know that they aren’t really written by Ludlum, who had decided to end his story here.
Again I noticed that Ludlum never uses vulgar terms, but in return swear words abound. All the characters invoke God and Jesus in various ways. This would represent a sort of defect, as it reduces the characterization of the characters themselves (as they all have the same way of swearing), but at the same time it’s his trademark, as well as the continuous use of exclamations like “folly!” or “madness!” (I’m not sure whether he used these exact words in English, because I read his books translated into Italian).
I recommend reading this book (and the whole trilogy) when you can dedicate at least one hour a day to it, so that you don’t lose the rhythm.

The Holcroft Covenant - Robert Ludlum

***** A cursed heritage

Although this is the umpteenth story of a Nazi conspiracy set decades after the end of Nazism, this novel by Ludlum knows how to be original and intriguing. The protagonist, Noel Holcroft, caught me immediately. It’s easy to feel connected to him and worry about him while realising how he is putting himself in trouble. The author, in fact, shows the unfolding of the story from different points of view and the reader is always one step ahead of the characters, both good and bad ones.
This novel shows again the winning scheme, already seen in the Bourne trilogy, of a male protagonist, who is physically strong but in difficulty, and a female one who helps him (and eventually they fall in love).
The only downside I found is the presence of the usual cliché of super-evil and crazy Nazis, who do the worst atrocities without the slightest remorse, and who also have followers willing to kill themselves for the cause. In developing this concept it escapes to me what’s the cause they are pursuing, apart from their folly. Is it possible that they are all crazy? There must be some crazy one, but at least someone should have other motives, such as survival (at least) or self-serving. Brainwashing as the sole engine of actions hopelessly flattens the negative characters, thus belittling the positive ones.
Fortunately, the novel ends with an absolutely unpredictable open ending that makes you forget all the clichés.

Dayworld Rebel - Philip José Farmer

**** The return of the daybreaker

I’d appreciated a lot the originality of “Dayworld” and Id had fun while reading it. Instead, this sequel and second book in the trilogy didn’t totally convinced me, at least not as much as the previous one.
As always, Farmer shows his wild imagination, and his world building is very accurate. Despite being a sequel, because of the change of environment, he had to invent again the places where the story takes place, casting the reader in a dystopian Los Angeles that goes beyond imagination.
Jeff Caird, in fact, leaves Manhattan and with a new identity, in addition to the seven former ones, escapes to the west coast. Everybody is seeking him, because one of his alter egos guards a secret that can overturn the whole system.
The story resumes right from where the first book ended, so it is absolutely necessary to read the latter so that you can understand well the former. I must say that those series in which reading the novels in order is mandatory are my favourite, so this is definitely a good thing.
The protagonist manages once again to be addictive for its fallibility and madness, and the plot is totally unpredictable. You haven’t the faintest idea what awaits the characters on the next page nor you can imagine a possible epilogue to the whole story.
But, unfortunately, I cannot give full marks to this novel, because there are some aspects that I didn’t like.
The plot is riddled with intrigue within intrigues, creating a complexity that I would define sterile. In addition, the distance needed from the structure of the first book forces the author to invent a new one that isn’t as much winning.
Finally, you feel that this is the middle book of a trilogy and therefore it suffers its being a transition story.
At this point I have to get the last one to find out how it ends!

Dayworld Rebel on Amazon.

The Good Wife: law, politics, and betrayal

I have yet to see the final season of this beautiful TV series, but for this reason I want to talk about it now that I don’t know how it will end. I remember that at the beginning I tried to avoid watching it at all costs. I told myself that I didn’t want to let myself be further involved in a TV show and extend the list of my TV commitments, but then, I don’t know how, I fell for it.

As it often happens in these cases, I have never watched the first few episodes. Being an episodic series (as typically are those aimed at general channels, like the CBS), this fault of mine didn’t affect the enjoyment of the rest of the season and subsequent ones, once the background was clarified.
The Good Wife” is a so-called juridical drama. The main character, played by the talented Julianna Margulies (whom you will certainly remember in ER in the role of the nurse that was the partner of Dr. Ross, namely George Clooney), is Alicia Florrick, the wife of the State Prosecutor, Peter Florrick (Chris Noth, already seen as Mr Big in Sex and the City) involved in a sex scandal that makes him go to prison. Alicia, being a good wife, despite the betrayal, publicly supports her husband (although in private, things are quite different) and has to take care of their family while he’s in jail. To do so, she returns to her old job as lawyer.

As you can imagine, each episode presents a legal case that must be solved.
I must say that the purely legal aspect is very entertaining. Alicia and her colleagues, even in the worst situations, pull out of the hat a stroke of genius that takes them almost always to victory.
Viewers receive a picture of the law that appears as something extremely creative, a tool that lawyers should know how to manage to make their clients win. It doesn’t matter whether they are guilty or innocent. In fact, among the many cases there is also that of an uxoricide (a recurring character in the series) who will remain unpunished, but he doesn’t appear as an entirely negative character.

Beside the legal theme is the political one, which is embodied by the talented Alan Cumming in the role of Eli Gold. Eli is Peter Florrick’s political strategist, that is, the one that manages its election campaigns and takes care of his image even during his mandates. Peter, who at first is the State Prosecutor, later in the series will be a candidate to become the Governor of Illinois and in the sixth season even Alicia finds herself running for a political office.
I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers to those who had not yet watched this series.
However, the part relating to the political intrigue isn’t less interesting than the purely legal one, highlighting how the two areas are often connected (in the US).

Especially in this period during which, even from a distance, I watched the presidential campaign that had as protagonists Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I could only compare the articles, videos, tweets, and anything else appearing on the web with what the fiction offers in “The Good Wife”, where elections are shown as a conflict made of defamation, low blows, anonymous videos, search of the usual skeleton in the opponent’s closet, verbal confrontations in which apparently the form counts more that the content. Among all that voters are numbers in a statistics that seem to swing from one position to the other as a result of these actions, just as if they were sheep and not thinking beings able to assess the quality of the candidates.
Personally I find all this fascinating and just watching a series like “The Good Wife” (but it is certainly not the only one addressing these topics), in its own small way, provides further interpretation of what we see in reality. In other words, everything that appears in the media in relation to the candidates in an election campaign in the United States is pure strategy.
Not that the rest of the world is different (we are learning!), but I have the impression that the excessive spectacularisation in this area, as in any other, is a typically American prerogative.

The controversial aspects both in the legal and political scope treated in this series are accompanied by those relating to the personal scope of the characters. Friendships that become (extramarital) sexual relations, which then become rivalry, characters who use other people’s feelings for personal purposes, teenagers who hide pregnancies, lawyers who pretend to be dumb to deceive adversaries (like the hilarious character of Elsbeth Tascioni, performed by Carrie Preston), others who use their children to pity the judges, lawyers who do the same with their own disability (in this regard I must mention the treacherous character of Louis Canning, performed by Michael J. Fox, who even manages to cheat Alicia from the bed of a hospital!) are just some examples of human material offered by the series, which, unfortunately, also includes death.

In short, there’s something, for all tastes and all these elements contribute to create strong storylines that unfold throughout the series, from season to season. And they become increasingly important, so much that the case treated in the single episode ends up overshadowed.
It’s no wonder that such a TV show tends to be addictive. Therefore, if you haven’t watched it but intend to do so, remember that you won’t have peace until you get to the last episode, if not of the whole series, at least of the individual seasons.
So, don’t say I didn’t warn you!