Talk about timing. David Fisher had planned to have this exclusive account of the FBI crime labs on bookstore shelves during the O.J. Simpson trial, when three bureau specialists would be testifying. But then twin doses of terrorism struck the U.S., first in Oklahoma City and next from the Unabomber. Suddenly Hard Evidence had become this summer's required reading.
In an era of crime and more crime, the book is basically an Oxford Home Companion to the News. Fisher describes in fascinating detail how the bureau's "sci-crime" lab can trace or match everything from paper to paint to glass to fingerprints to DNA. You can read the chapter on the Hairs and Fiber Unit and then recall technician Doug Deedrick's testimony about how the hair in the wool cap found near the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman was microscopically similar to the hair on the defendant's head.
Fisher's chapter on the Explosives Unit—written long before the Oklahoma City tragedy—brings home the terror much better than any newspaper or TV account. "Unlike a firearm, a bomb doesn't have to be aimed," he writes. "Unlike poison, it doesn't have to be administered. The bomber doesn't have to be near you.... Victims are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Fisher is the first journalist to go inside the FBI Criminal Laboratory. If he is a bit uncritical (you won't find misplaced or tainted evidence here), he can be forgiven. The book breaks new ground in explaining how criminal investigations work. The writing is lively, the subject exciting. Can the TV series be far behind? (Simon & Schuster, $23)