PUBLISHED: 10:26 AM on Tuesday, September 5, 2006
Get the real picture of forensic crime

Let's say there's a house you know about, and you want to see the inside of it.

The house is completely empty and the door is open. You walk through each room, touching nothing. You leave the same way you came in.

Did you know that a forensic expert can tell you were there? Even though you never touched a thing, they can determine a lot about you by the "cloud" of evidence you left behind.

In the new book "Every Contact Leaves a Trace" by Connie Fletcher, learn more about crime-solving in the words of the real experts.

When a crime goes down on your favorite detective show, everyone leaps on the case to solve it.

Evidence is transported in plastic bags to a lab where DNA evidence is extracted on the spot and the murderer's unique biological make-up is put in a database.

The screen blinks for a second, then pinpoints the exact information the detectives need to make an arrest and it's all done, nice and neat, in the space of 60 minutes, minus commercials.

Uh huh. Ask a real forensic expert if this is all true. He or she will laugh, then tell you that it's not at all like on "CSI."

Fletcher interviewed dozens of experts in fields of forensic anthropology and botany; DNA specialists; trace analysts; crime scene reconstructionists and investigators; detectives; lab experts; and other scientists and police officers.

What you'll learn - the truth - might amaze you.

Plastic bags are largely forbidden when it comes to evidence collecting.

DNA identification takes days, even weeks. Criminals have to have been fingerprinted in order to be in a database. And footprints are often more important than fingerprints in the solving of a crime.

Then there are the little things, the surprises that these experts offer. In major metropolitan areas, you are videotaped about eight times a day without your knowledge. Many rope manufacturers put tracers in their ropes, to track their own products. And in frozen areas like Alaska, a crime scene has to be warmed up before evidence can even be collected.

Reading "Every Contact Leaves a Trace" is going to do three things: it's going to make you want to behave yourself and forget about ever committing any wrongdoing. It's going to keep you in your seat for long periods of time.

And it's going to want to make you find all the other books by this incredible crime oral historian.

Author Connie Fletcher, an associate professor at Loyola University in Chicago, gets out of the way and lets the experts say what needs to be said.

Many stories in this book will be familiar to you - particularly the ones that happened near your hometown or in your state - but be aware that those stories can be very brutal.

If you're a true crime fan, a police officer, or a detective wanna-be, "Every Contact Leaves a Trace" should be on your bookshelf.

It will show you that real crime-solving is not like on "CSI."

It's much more fascinating.