DNA, Fingerprints, Crime Scene Investigation, CSI Southampton, where crime fiction met crime fact

CSI Southampton, organised by the Southampton Library Service as part of the Southampton Festival of Words - So to Speak - lived up to the audience expectations on Saturday 24 October when crime fiction authors Pauline Rowson and Natasha Cooper joined crime experts from Hampshire Police, Carolyn Lovell Head of Crime Scene Investigation Management, and Jane Aston Fingerprint Bureau Supervisor, to talk about research, DNA, fingerprints and more. 

The fingerprint team from Hampshire Police were also on  the scene to take the delegates fingerprints and press them it into a keep sake key ring to take away.

Pauline Rowson right with Hampshire Fingerprint team, Jane Aston, Fingerprint Bureau Supervisor and Carolyn Lovell, head of Crime Scene Investigation Hants. Police, CSI Southampton Oct 15

The event was chaired by local author Penny Legg who expertly put questions to the panel before it was opened up to the audience.

Carolyn Lovell talked about recovering evidence from the crime scenes that she and her team attend and how the advances in DNA technology are making it more difficult rather than easier to gather and interpret that evidence.  In addition, the complexity of presenting technical evidence to a jury in a way that can be understood is becoming more challenging along with managing the public's perception of the timescale of an investigation, when the public are used to seeing complex and major crimes cleared up in a hour on a television programme!

Carolyn Lovell, head of CSI with Hants police, answering a question at CSI Southampton Oct. 2015

Jane Aston was quizzed over the ability of criminals to hide and disguise their fingerprints. Fortunately she said that not many criminals were clever and didn't wear gloves but even those who did made mistakes.  They often removed gloves at some stage in the crime or the gloves were so worn or had holes in them that they left a print.  

Jane Aston, Fingerprint Bureau Supervisor, Hants. Police answering a question at CSI Southampton Oct. 2015

And this was all good stuff for us crime writers who might wish to weave one or two of these little anecdotes into our crime novels.

I was asked about why I set my crime novels in the Solent and I talked about the fascination of the sea and how locations around the South Coast of England inspire me.  How although the novel might begin with the murder that is actually the end result of a story that often begins years or certainly months before.

I was also asked what fascinated me about writing crime and why I thought so many people liked reading crime novels. I believe that many people like the challenge of trying to solve the crime alongside the protagonist, in my case the rugged and flawed DI Andy Horton or former Royal Marine Commando, Art Marvik in my new crime series.

Pauline Rowson on the CSI Southampton panel with Natasha Cooper, moderator, Penny Legg, crime experts, Caroyln Lovell and Jane Aston

There is also the fascination of why people do the things they do, the personalities and motivations behind the characters, a view that Natasha Cooper also shared. Natasha talked about how she researches disturbed personality types.  How this aspect fascinates her as does the whole element of research and how many people go out of their way to assist crime writers in their quest for information.

With several crime and historical novels under her belt, Natasha expressed her abhorrence of torture and excessive violence and like me will go to great lengths to avoid this in her writing.  We agreed that our aim is to entertain with realism while acknowledging that in the world of fiction there is a resolution and justice can be done while in real life this is not always the case, a fact that both Carolyn and Jane agreed with. However having said that their success rate is excellent and Carolyn had come fresh from a week where two very nasty repeat criminals had been convicted and sentenced. A result, and that was the verdict of the audience at CSI Southampton.

Pauline Rowson signing a copy of Art Marvik Marine Crime novel Silent Running for a reader

If this sound like your cup of tea then why not bookmark the next CSI event which is CSI Portsmouth 2016 on Saturday 5 March. Some great crime authors and fascinating forensic and police experts are lined up.   Check back here for more or sign up to my monthly newsletter for all the latest book news, events, videos and articles.

My thanks to Allison Kirby of Southampton Library Service for helping to arrange CSI Southampton as part of the Southampton Festival of Words - So to Speak festivities.

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