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Publisher's Summary

From the acclaimed author of Death in the Air comes the riveting story of the birth of criminal investigation in the 20th century.

Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities - beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books - sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least 2,000 cases in his 40-year career. Known as the "American Sherlock Holmes", Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America's greatest - and first - forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.

Heinrich was one of the nation's first expert witnesses, working in a time when the turmoil of Prohibition led to sensationalized crime reporting and only a small, systematic study of evidence. However, with his brilliance and commanding presence in both the courtroom and at crime scenes, Heinrich spearheaded the invention of a myriad of new forensic tools that police still use today, including blood spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests, and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence. His work, though not without its serious - some would say fatal - flaws, changed the course of American criminal investigation.

Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon - as well as the limits of those techniques and the very human experts who wield them.

©2020 Kate Winkler Dawson (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

One of CrimeReads' Most Anticipated Books of 2020

“Dawson balances the two sides of her book deftly, moving nimbly between dramatic renditions of the mysteries Heinrich helped solve, or sometimes didn’t, and reflections on his scientific analyses and personal struggles…As thought-provoking as it is thrilling.” (Columbus Dispatch)

"Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America's earliest criminologists. He was also a meticulous record keeper, allowing Dawson to recreate his fascinating life story.... Those interested in the development of modern forensics will be enthralled." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)  

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Steven F. Schroeder
  • 19-02-20

Always use a professional Editor and Reader

This book is too disorganized, jumping around from one historic moment to another without warning, and the reader is a non-pro. I've yet to fins an author who can read a book as well as a professional actor or reader.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Bailey Winslow
  • 03-03-20

Most interesting person I never heard of.

Absolutely loved this story. I am going to purchase the book and read that as well. I want to see images and source material. Very well written, but the narration is an audible sedative.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Becky B.
  • 04-12-20

Interesting and balanced look

This was a fascinating read about a man at the cutting edge of modern forensics, but also balanced as the book also looks at just how reliable various forensic methods Heinrich employed and developed really are. The book is also good at pointing out both Heinrich's triumphs and faults. Content notes: little swearing and only in quotes, there's one case involving alleged sexual assault that is a teensy bit described (quoted from case transcript), several murders in all their gory details described.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Lilly Lowton
  • 11-03-21

Interesting story and individual, terrible speaker

This story is utterly fascinating, but I just can't bear the reader, whose delivery is slow, ponderous, and full of the oddest pauses and stops. I'll have to read this one myself.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-01-21

Reads like a novel

A compelling narrative, beautiful writing, and complex mysteries. If you like this book you should also check out her podcast “Tenfold More Wicked”!

5 people found this helpful

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  • Nervus
  • 23-04-20

Riveting

Absolutely riveting. Even kept it playing in my pocket as I did housework. History of CSI is fascinating. This guy was brilliant.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Martha D.
  • 02-03-21

Shining a light on a little known pioneer

As much a respectful biography as a review of early 20th century CSI practices, Dawson portrays EO Heinrich as a scientist ahead of his time. My only quibble is with Dawson's narration in spots, particularly her refusal to pronounce the L in Holmes, and saying "affiDavid" rather than "affidavit." Well written and entertaining.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Anna
  • 02-07-21

History that reads like a great novel

One of the best books I've listened to. Extremely well written. Brings history alive. Characters are vivid and distinct. Fascinating as historic crimes are analyzed and solved by a brilliant scientist at the dawn of modern forensics. True crime fans will be riveted but it's a great read even for those unfamiliar with the genre. I binged this book and was sad when it ended. It was that good. The author is an excellent reader. I've enjoyed her podcasts as well and look forward to more of her work.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Susan R.
  • 26-05-22

Very good

Very good and easy to follow complicated scientific explanations. really enjoyed it. Kate Winkler Dawson is a wonderful narrator.

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  • Justin Z.
  • 04-09-22

Interesting spotlight

The methodological innovations made by Heinrich are well written, the insights into his character and obsessions less so ( the portrayal alludes to something deeper than actually transpires) but the book’s weakness is that it doesn’t manage to deliver the cases with that ‘oomph’ factor you’d expect, save once or twice.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-03-21

Enthralling

Was an absolutely incredible book about the man who helped shape forensic science and the struggles he faced in his personal life. Truly insightful.

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  • Geoff
  • 12-04-20

Kept me engaged

There are few books that keep me fully engaged all the way through, and this one did.

Although the narration is somewhat lacklustre the weaving of topic, history and story was excellent.

Well worth a listen.