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American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI

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3.63  ·  Rating details ·  3,056 ratings  ·  492 reviews
From the acclaimed author of Death in the Air ("Not since Devil in the White City has a book told such a harrowing tale"--Douglas Preston) comes the riveting story of the birth of criminal investigation in the twentieth century.

Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities--beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books--sat an inv
...more
Kindle Edition, 335 pages
Published February 11th 2020 by G.P. Putnam's Sons
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Jeremy I haven't read The Poisoner's Handbook, but it seems like they were pioneers in different areas. Heinrich made inroads as far as ballistics, blood spa…moreI haven't read The Poisoner's Handbook, but it seems like they were pioneers in different areas. Heinrich made inroads as far as ballistics, blood spatter patterns, geological identification, etc., whereas Norris and Gettier seem to be focused more on toxicology. (less)
Jeremy It has its moments. But I can't really recommend it.…moreIt has its moments. But I can't really recommend it.(less)

Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.63  · 
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Diane S ☔
Mar 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
2.5 i had a very difficult time deciding how I felt about this book. It was a very uneven, mixed read, or so I felt.

What I liked:

Oscar Heinrich, his professional accomplishments are admirable. The first to use scientific investigations for solving a crime. The first to use blood spatter analysis and to use UV light to determine blood. He testified in many criminal cases. In some he was successful but not all, which irked him beyond belief.

Each case started with a quote from one of Sherlock Holme
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Lori Lamothe
This is an engrossing read that chronicles the life of Edward Oscar Heinrich, a brilliant man who pioneered many techniques that shaped American forensics. Nicknamed the “American Sherlock” during his time, Heinrich has fallen into obscurity—I was shocked to find he doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry. Not only did Heinrich solve more than 2,000 cases, including some of the most famous crimes of his era, but he also discovered many scientific techniques that are still in use today. Kudos to Kate ...more
Chris
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Edward Oscar Heinrich, nicknamed American Sherlock, was a pioneer of many crime scene investigation techniques, some are still used today in modernized forms. Heinrich was involved in investigating around 2,000 total cases around the country, but primarily on the west coast.

The book covers selected cases that Heinrich was hired (at this point in time forensic investigators were private contractors) to investigate, often for the prosecution, but at times for the defense. Some of these cases are f
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Jeanette
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding individual and the life story and career determination is interesting.

But the way this was told after about page 90 became a total slog drag. It's not sequential or a logical organization for continuity. It goes off on tangents and name drops, and then leaves cliff hangers it might answer 100 plus pages later. Very sloppy overall.

What a intriguing person Oscar was. It's too bad the story was not less by case minutia skips & transfers to others' parsings and more about his developing
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Krystin Rachel
Book Blog | Bookstagram

Opening Case: How much did Fatty Arbuckle actually weigh?
Main CSI: Gil Grissom maintains "old man crush" status.
Plot Truthi-ness: Beefs and peas in a dessert trifle.

You might think that you're getting a novel about "murder, forensics and the birth of American CSI," when you pick up this novel. That's exactly what I thought. And also exactly what they put in the fucking title. But why should titles ever tell you what you're going to be reading, I guess?

What you're actually
...more
Jeremy
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There's a good book in the story of Oscar Heinrich, aka "America's Sherlock Holmes." This, however, is not it. The author constantly teases the reader with click-bait lines like "But soon their loyalty would be tested..." without adequate follow-up: It's nearly two hundred pages later that the incident she alludes to occurs, and then there is no discussion of how that test ends: are they still loyal to each other? Are they still on speaking terms, at least? We assume so, but...we don't really kn ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
4.5 stars

This book covers the life of Edward Oscar Heinrich - known as the American Sherlock Holmes. Almost single handedly this man pioneered and perfected our forensic history - with many methods still being used today.

During Heinrichs most productive years of research and development in the 1930's to 1940's he had many competitors, most falling way behind his abilities. However he had to face these people and contradict them in many court hearings. It took Heinrich many years of testimony an
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Ken Hammond (kenzaz)
American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson fascinating study into Edward Oscar Heinrich forgotten pioneer of our modern day scientific criminal forensics, many of his techniques are still in use today, but without Kate bringing his story back to life, probably no one except a few people in that field would even know, now however when you read that next crime story you can picture Edward's pioneering work, making that crime novel mind pictures even more delicious and fantastic.yay. ...more
Emg
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Interesting subject but annoying writing style - too many "as he would soon find out" teasers which turn out to be rather ho-hum incidents. ...more
Rincey
Dec 05, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting to see how some of the basic techniques used in forensic science were first developed and used

Watch me talk about it here: https://youtu.be/B72trBIQVSA
...more
Heather
Mar 01, 2020 rated it did not like it
I wanted to love this book, but unfortunately it was a miss for me. The case stories were laden with interruptions for unnecessary discussions about Heinrich's endless financial worries (no closure on this point either, despite the near-constant mention of it) and unrelated tangents. Jumps in time and subject matter made the flow of the story very choppy. In the end, the writing left Oscar Heinrich feeeling very flat and one-dimensional, despite the fact that he was a very real, fascinating pion ...more
Jenny Lawson
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating reading. Perfect for lovers of true crime.
Jim
Well narrated with a lot of interesting information that was very poorly presented. Edward Oscar Heinrich was incredibly innovative in his investigation techniques & his work helped solve thousands of crimes. Incredibly, he doesn't have a Wikipedia page at this time, though! I'm glad this book brings his legacy back to light. As a private forensic scientist, he brought enlightenment to a science that the author contends is still quite dubious in many instances. From other books I've read, I thin ...more
Rian *fire and books*
I’m both fascinated by Oscar Heinrich and frustrated by him.
Katie
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I’m surprised by so many low ratings from people who were annoyed by Oscar Heinrich’s obsession with personal finance! Maybe this story performs better as an audiobook, which is the format I was able to get from my local library.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area my whole life, and Bay Area Murderinos is exactly the audience I would recommend this to. I always love when I hear references to local places, even if it involves a macabre subject, and this book delivers: San Francisco, Ber
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KC
A couple decades or so after the turn-of-the-century in Berkley, California, Edward Oscar Heinrich was becoming a household name, evolving as the first American expert in forensic science, working on high profile murder investigations, unsolvable crimes, inventing while perfecting his craft. Over his career, Heinrich set the standard for modern forensic investigation, and proudly known as the American Sherlock Holmes. For fans of C.S.I and Forensic Files.
Cara Putman
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really interesting look at cases from the turn of the century to 1935.
Allison Sesame
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
An engaging read about Edward Oscar Heinrich, a pioneer in forensic science. I enjoyed how the author took us through a selection of his thousands of cases and his various techniques, as well as his personal life. I’m sure the next time I watch Bones or Law & Order or some other crime show, I’ll think about this book.
Denise Mullins
Before there were TV shows like CSI, Profiler, and Criminal Minds, there was EO Heinrich who established and created a number of remarkable forensic techniques during the 20s and 30s. A true Renaissance man, Heinrich was able to extrapolate how botany, geology, and entomology could be incorporated to solve crimes and predict deviant patterns. And while this book intelligently explains his process and explores some of his most famous cases, it fails to sustain reader interest by needlessly digres ...more
Katie/Doing Dewey
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Summary: An engaging story looking at some of the earliest use of scientific crime scene analysis in the United States.

When author Kate Winkler Dawson read an article that mentioned a man known as the “American Sherlock Holmes”, she immediately knew she’d found the subject for her next book. And when I saw that she had another book coming out, I immediately knew I was going to read it. “American Sherlock” Edward Heinrich was a forensic analyst and early pioneer of many of the techniques used to
...more
Octavia (ReadsWithDogs)
"𝐋𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐢𝐬 𝐚 𝐬𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐟𝐫𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬" -- 𝐄𝐝𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐝 𝐎𝐬𝐜𝐚𝐫 𝐇𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐫𝐢𝐜𝐡⁣

Whelp, American Sherlock was interesting, but ultimately let me down. I wanted a detailed account of how our CSI system came to be, but this book was more of a history of one of America's first forensic scientists; Edward Oscar Heinrich, and some of the cases he covered.⁣

I first had the inkling of irk in the prologue where the author is surprised by Oscar Heinrich's attractiveness...why does this matter? She seems to become quite smit
...more
Erin Upshaw
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, dropped
I dropped this book about halfway through, because while the subject matter was interesting, I found the writing to be quite dry, and I tend to prefer my non-fiction to be written chronologically. The jumping around, the starting one case and then moving to the next, was something I found frustrating rather than compelling. However, I encourage you to give the book a shot and see for yourself; if you're a fan of true crime and non-linear storytelling, I think you'd really enjoy it. Just wasn't f ...more
Kim Gray
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
There was a disconnect in the author's portrayal of Oscar. I couldn't like or dislike him. He seemed petty. Too much time was spent discussing his financial fears. I was hoping to learn more about the cases and how he solves them, which the title and comparison to Sherlock would make you assume. I was anxious for this book to be done. ...more
Tracy
Dec 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
This sounded so interesting and I was very much looking forward to reading it, but it was torture to get through. The writing is completely chaotic, rambling and filled with underwhelming cliff hangers. The overuse of cliff hangers is frustratingly ridiculous. I am not a DNF-reader, but this is one I wanted to DNF and throw out the window (but it's on my Kindle, so...). The character examination is very contradictory. Oscar Heinrich is pompous, full of himself, OCD and created issues with police ...more
Dancing Marshmallow
Overall: 2.5 stars. While some of the cases featured are interesting, the man himself, Oscar Heinrich, just really wasn’t. This felt like a string of interesting facts smooshed together into a book when it would have better made a journal article.

This was a slight disappointment, since I enjoy the history of forensics and really liked the author’s previous book, Death in the Air. Unfortunately, there’s not enough personality in our principle figure to really justify the narrative approach to his
...more
Denise
Mar 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2020
The subject of this book is fascinating. Groundbreaking early 20th century forensic scientist Edward Oscar Heinrich who pioneered a number of techniques still used in criminal investigations today and provided vital evidence in solving numerous cases might just be one of the most intriguing historical figures I never heard of before. The writing style, unfortunately, proved to be somewhat less than gripping, with the author spending too much time jumping back and forth hap-hazardly and repeatedl ...more
Amy "the book-bat"
I think the writing could have been cleaned up some. It was annoying to have cases started and then abandoned to a different case and then picked back up way later in the book. I think it would have been better to present a complete case before moving on to the next one. The forensic stuff was highly interesting to me. The worrying about money, not as interesting. I would have liked a better balance.
Robyn
Jan 19, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book about Edward Oscar Heinrich, who is known as the American Sherlock Holmes.
Heinrich pioneered and perfected a great deal of forensic science by honing many of the methods still used today. It is an interesting read, but it seems that many find it a bit dry. Finally, the Dalbert Rule is at least mentioned in one of these forensic books. This is a Federal law that sets a standard regarding the admissibility of evidence given by an expert.

4 stars
happy reading!
Alannah Clarke
Thank you to netgalley.co.uk for giving me a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I wasn't sure what to think of this one, I couldn't get into it. I found it quite repetitive so I ended up skimming a good bit of it. Kept talking about things I wasn't interested but didn't spend enough time on the forensics which made Edward Oscar Heinrich known as the American Sherlock.
...more
Amber
Nov 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
not really what I thought it was.
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Kate Winkler Dawson joined the University of Texas at Austin's School of Journalism as a senior lecturer in 2009. Before then, she was on the faculty of Fordham University's Marymount College for two years. A seasoned documentary producer, news writer and TV news producer, her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, United Press International in London, WCBS News, ABC News Ra ...more

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