One of the things I really love about being a writer is doing research for a new book series. Writing always starts with a basic idea and the constant question of “what if?” After a short time I generally have a pretty good idea of who my main characters are, a little bit of their back story and the inciting incident that gets the whole novel rolling. Once these things are in place, it’s time to begin researching all the different things I need to know to make the story accurate and believable. For my first novel, The Kiss of a Rose, I needed to learn as much as I could about state politics since the lead character was a state representative. I was very fortunate to be able to substitute a few times for my own state representative in the legislature. I learned the ins and outs of how a bill actually becomes law and was able to present a bill to a committee and debate on the House floor. I also conducted multiple interviews with several members of the legislature and other political operatives to get a good feel for which political issues to use in the story.
I am starting a new romantic suspense series where the heroine is a forensic scientist with the state crime lab and the hero is a detective with the sheriff’s department. Learning about the workings of a forensic crime laboratory has been absolutely fascinating.
Most crime labs are divided up by disciplines. Individual scientists generally specialize in one of these areas. They can vary from lab to lab or state to state, but most forensic laboratories have testing activities in the following disciplines, Drug Chemistry, Toxicology, Trace Evidence, Biology, Firearms/Toolmarks, Questioned Documents, Latent Prints, Crime Scene, and Digital & Multimedia Evidence.
Drug Chemistry deals primarily with controlled substances. It employs more people than any other discipline in crime labs.
Toxicology is divided into two groups, human performance toxicology, for example driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or post mortem toxicology dealing with the possible cause of death such as poisoning or overdoses.
Trace Evidence deals with the identification of small, sometimes even microscopic, items including hairs, fibers, pollen, soil, glass and various other particulate matter.
Biology is the identification of bodily fluids such as blood or semen. It includes presumptive blood tests, blood typing and DNA.
Firearms & Toolmarks attempts to identify a tool mark to its source such as a bullet to the barrel of a gun, a cartridge case to a firing pin, or a pry mark to a screwdriver.
Questioned Documents identifies handwriting to an individual or if a document has been tampered with.
Latent Prints identifies fingerprints to a source individual.
Crime Scene is the processing, documentation, and collection of evidence.
Digital & Multimedia Evidence is a new discipline dealing with computers, hard drives, cell phones, and digital cameras. It is concerned largely with the retrieval of data that has been damaged, deleted or destroyed.
Most people who go into this field have an educational background in chemistry, biology, genetics or forensic science.
I have been told by the forensic scientists I interviewed that they rarely wear Varna sunglasses or leather pants and only a handful drive around in Hummers.
Have you ever seen a real forensics team work a crime scene?
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