BookBin2011: Never Suck A Dead Man’s Hand: Curious Adventures of a CSI

As if the title of Dana Kollman’s memoir, Never Suck A Dead Man’s Hand: Curious Adventures of a CSI, isn’t awesome enough, right in the introduction, I came across the following:

I don’t recall Gill Grissom [sic] responding to any “burglary” calls where the only evidence of the crime was a stranger’s turd found floating in the toilet, and when was the last time Catherine Willows came home after handling a decomp and found a dead maggot in her bra? Did Warrick Brown ever earn overtime because a junkie died after eating the living room sofa? And I must have missed the episode where Sara Sidle was directed to process a tree house for latent prints.

Okay, references to disgusting evidence and mention of characters from my current favorite show? Oh, CSI Kollmann, you indeed know how to get on my good side.

[Loba Tangent: See, I told you in my last book review, denizens: My CSI obsession isn’t going away any time soon. If anything, it’s getting worse. I’ve already talked about this obsession in more detail in a previous book review so I won’t go on anymore here. Suffice it to say, I do loves me some Vegas CSI. And I still want Sara Sidle on my desk. The action figure. Pervs.]

Seriously, though, if you’re a forensic nerd like I have obviously become, I highly recommend this memoir. Kollmann gives you a multifaceted, personal (and oftentimes extremely graphic) inside look at the real life of a crime scene investigator. Also, she was a CSI for the Baltimore Police Department, which means she gets bonus White Wolf points for being a resident of the Old Line State. True, there are a few chapters that I found myself reading and wondering why they were included, but holistically, this is a strong offering from someone able to give you a front row seat to some of the strangest and worst incidents you can imagine. And some that you would never even consider imagining. Like sucking on a dead man’s hands. More on that later…

I will say this, though: If you are easily offended by flippancy in the face of what most people would consider to be serious and horrific crimes, you might not want to read this book. Kollmann is very honest and upfront about the fact that she developed what many might consider to be an off-putting callousness toward the crimes and people she investigated, pretty much as a defense mechanism for having to deal with some of the worst that humanity has to offer.

It’s not all that surprising, but it is a bit jarring at times to read her rather whimsical takes on people and events that a non-CSI would find highly upsetting. I by no means hold this against her. I can’t imagine how a person could be a CSI without forming some kind of barrier between their humanity and the inhumane acts they investigate on a daily basis. I just thought that I would warn anyone about this fact before continuing.

One of the things that I found most amusing about Kollmann’s take on her former career is how she pointed out right upfront how unreal shows like CSI actually are and telling readers how she was going to show us the truth of what the life of a crime scene investigator is really like. She then went on to tell about cases that, in many ways, almost perfectly paralleled cases and actions depicted on this “very unrealistic” crime show.

I do understand her point, however. Watching CSI gives viewers a false sense that the evidence is always going to be there and that cases are always going to be solved by the science nerds (you know, because all those cops are just sitting around doing nothing). Oh, and those DNA results? They’re going to be ready and to you before that fresh pot of coffee is finished brewing in the break room.

Less-reasonable viewers then go on to be called for jury duty and sit on trials in which they think that everything is going to go down like it does on the TV. Nick Stokes is going to come in and give you the rundown on how ballistics matched the bullet fragments found inside the DB to a gun registered to the aunt of the guy who used to share a dorm room with the suspect on trial. And then Catherine Willows is going to give you the breakdown on the blood spatter evidence and how it speaks to the fact that the crime was obviously committed by a left-handed person with a limp and a slight Mediterranean accent…which perfectly fits the description of the suspect.

See? It’s a little ridiculous after all, that wonderful Vegas show.

Oh, and I know what you’ve been wondering ever since you started reading this review, and the answer is yes. Kollmann indeed explains the title of this memoir. And it is so very disturbing. And hilarious. Just like the rest of this book.

Final Verdict: This is one of the most enjoyable books that I have read in a long time (yes, I really am that morbid). And, really? The title alone makes me want to keep it, if only for the puerile joy of hearing people’s reactions when they see the title on the spine.