Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wednesday Book Review

Witnesses from the Grave: The Stories Bones Tell (Christopher Joyce and Eric Stover, Little, Brown, and Company: 1991) caught my eye in the library this week. The decision to check it out was cinched when I discovered that it centers on Clyde Collins Snow who grew up in Ralls, Crosby County, Texas, where my father's family moved before he started to school.

The scope of the book moves far beyond the Texas Panhandle as Clyde Snow garners degrees and experience in various fields, eventually making him a leading expert in the study of bones--those bones that used to walk around. One of his first major tasks was as part of the team trying to identify 258 passengers and 13 crew members of American Airlines flight 191 which crashed at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in 1979 after losing part of a wing on take-off.

He moved on to the John Wayne Gacy case--a mass murderer of young boys, many of whom were found buried beneath his house. In 1985, he went to Brazil  as part on one of several teams charged with identifying an exhumed skeleton thought to be the Angel of Death--Dr. Joseph Mengele, whose chilling medical experiments in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz consumed survivors with the understandable desire for justice.

The third part of the book deals with the recovery and identification of Argentinians who disappeared during the reign of the junta in power from 1976-1983--and, ultimately, justice for them.

Fans of the Old West will enjoy reading about how one of those massacred in "Custer's Last Stand" was finally identified, as well as about outlaw Elmer McCurdy, heavily embalmed with arsenic, who made the rounds of sideshows for years.

The authors also chronicle the development of forensic anthropology. Like any science, it grew slowly, had its ups and downs, and eventually emerged as a standard tool in law enforcement.

Reading the technicalities of  how bones "speak" makes for slow going for the reader, but the pace is worthwhile. The four-page appendix of the human skeleton makes a good reference as one plows through what can be learned from even part of a bone.

A good read--highly recommended just for interesting information if not for writing research. How will I use it? That remains to be seen--no pun intended!


nlindabrit said...

I have read about Doctor Snow's work before. I read the novels of Kathy Reichs, whose heroine, Doctor Temperance Brennan, is a forensic anthropologist, as is Ms. Reichs in real life. I find the technical detail in the novels fascinating.

K9friend said...

Wow! Sounds like another gem. I'll add it to my "check it out" list!

Donna Alice said...

Although it sounds like a great book, I'm not sure I could read it without nightmares. If I need any research on bones and the stories they tell, I'll know who to ask. :)