Picks and Pans Review: The Blooding

updated 02/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Joseph Wambaugh

Any number of writers could have taken on the task of bringing the real-life Narborough village murders to book form. Only Joe Wambaugh could have done it this well. The case begins when Lynda Mann, an A-student with a teenager's leanings toward music, makeup and clothes, is found raped and strangled in the village in England's East Midlands. A 150-member murder squad is brought in from the county seat, Leicester. It is November 1983. The investigators follow leads, question suspects and trace the tracks that led to a girl's death. A year later, with no breakthrough in sight, the squad is dissolved. Village life resumes—women plant gardens, happy children play, husbands go off to work. The peace lasts until July 1986. Then the raped, strangled body of another girl, Dawn Ashworth, is discovered a few steps from the first murder site. This time, however, the manhunt has a suspect to squeeze, a kitchen porter observed leaving the scene. He is soon captured, questioned, and delivers what is expected—a confession. The police seem satisfied. Alec Jeffreys, a Leicester University scientist experimenting with a new forensic technique, is not. Jeffreys, working with investigators, matches DNA samples (genetic material found in body cells) from the alleged killer with those found on the bodies of the murdered girls. Each individual's DNA (except for identical twins) is unique, and when Jeffreys compares DNA samples from the porter's blood with semen found on the bodies, there is no match. The porter is freed; a fresh manhunt begins. In the largest roundup in British crime history, 4,000 possible suspects were tested before the real culprit—a 27-year-old bakery worker—was arrested in September 1987. This was the first murder case anywhere to be solved by the DNA test known as genetic fingerprinting. The case also proves to be a perfect match for Joseph Wambaugh (Echoes in the Darkness, The Onion Field). His fourth work of nonfiction (he has written seven best-selling novels), it is the ablest demonstration of his investigative skills. He paces his story with efficient strokes, offering small portraits of the people (particularly evocative are his sketches of the two victims' families) and establishing the quiet countryside mood. Once the pastoral scene is set, Wambaugh moves to the police and their methods, their relentless questioning, their emotional swings as empty leads take them down frustrating paths. Wambaugh has built his reputation on his understanding of the way cops think, act, talk and react (he's a long-retired 14-year member of the Los Angeles Police Department), regardless of which side of the ocean they're on. He has also, down the years, sharpened his writing skills to the point where they easily equal, if not surpass, his reporting abilities. The Blooding is a first-class combination of his talents. (Morrow, $18.45)

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