Essential Forensic Biology by Alan Gunn is an introductory text for undergraduate students of forensic science. In his introduction, Gunn clearly defines his subject matter as "the application of the science of biology to legal proceedings". However, students of other forensic disciplines may also find it a handy introductory volume. Students at postgraduate level are likely to feel that they need more information than is on offer here, a fact that Gunn acknowledges at the start.
The book comprises an introduction, nine chapters and a postscript. The introduction focuses on the origins of forensic science, and the postscript book-ends the text by briefly discussing future directions. The other chapters cover forensic biological topics from the decay process to the use and collection of biological material, with forensic applications in mind (for example, body fluids, fungi and plants, vertebrates and invertebrates and so on).
Forensic biology is actually a deceptively large subject, encompassing many different disciplines and perspectives, and Gunn's philosophy has been to cover each and every aspect of this. Thus, within each chapter, he whizzes over the pertinent issues and facts, sometimes at breakneck speed, although thankfully it never gets confusing and you finish feeling as though you've grasped the basics.
Terminology and jargon are kept to a minimum, as is appropriate for the intended audience, and the numerous black and white photographs, drawings and tables within the book are clear and well deployed.
Each chapter begins with a short outline and a set of objectives. These are akin to learning outcomes from lectures and allow the reader to appreciate what is about to come while providing a simple means of determining whether the chapter content has been absorbed.
The chapters conclude with a quick quiz to allow readers to test their understanding of the preceding material, and some recommended project work, which is usefully accompanied by brief contextualisation and method synopses.
A good-sized reference list is provided, although equal weight is not given to all topics within the book. In addition, more appropriate references than those listed for some sections (for example the anthropology/osteology section) are available.
The book does not attempt to be a "How-to" volume or user's manual - it is a general summary of a broad discipline. It largely succeeds in uniting a complicated and intertwining area of research and practice and presenting it in an approachable manner.
Tim Thompson is lecturer in forensic anthropology, School of Life Sciences, Dundee University.
Essential Forensic Biology. First Edition
Author - Alan Gunn
Publisher - John Wiley and Sons
Pages - 294
Price - £24.95 and £70.00
ISBN - 0 470 017 3 and 016 5