Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Friday, October 15, 2010

Guest Author: Jeri Westerson - What Medieval Detectives Detect

I'd like to offer a delighted welcome back to historical author, Jeri Westerson.  She tantalized us last year with her post on medieval knights and their virtues, and this year she's back with yet another release and another equally intriguing post! Without further ado... I give you todays' guest author, Jeri Westerson  *applause please*

Historical Author
Jeri Westerson
What Medieval Detectives Detect

By Jeri Westerson

How handy it would be if my medieval detective, Crispin Guest, could whip out a cell phone and call in a forensic specialist to come quick and help him identify the sort of weapon used on the body before him, determine the time of death, and analyze the blood spatter.

Well, aside from the cell phone and lack of forensic scientists, a medieval detective—the right kind that is—could do all those things.

And what’s the right kind? Mine, of course! Well, that is to say, a man who was used to warfare and what a body looked like. A fresh one, a day old one, and a bloated one. That’s step one. Coming across a body and having a relative idea of how long ago the crime occurred is extremely helpful. And the look of the blood. Is it flowing? What does it look like?

Since he was a former knight, a fighting man, acquainted with battles and their aftermath, he might recognize the signs of clotting without really knowing the science behind it. It takes 3-15 minutes for blood to clot. If it’s still liquid, the murder is fresh by a few minutes. If the blood is shiny or gelatinous, then the murder occurred less than an hour earlier. If there is clot and serum, then many hours have passed.

Blood spatter is a whole science unto itself (ever watch Dexter?) What is the origin of the bloodstains? Is it oozing, gushing, dripping from a person or a weapon? What type of weapon could it be? The spatter shows the position of the assailant to the victim. The number of blows might be determined by this spatter as well as the truthfulness of witnesses. For instance, if a witness says that the victim was sitting, the blood spatter might very well show he was standing. Is the witness lying? Crispin might extrapolate that information from observing the spatter.

Rigor mortis—literally, “death stiffness”—happens very methodically, from the face downward about 2 hours after death. It takes another 8-12 hours for the body to become completely stiff and fixed into position. Fixed for another 18 hours is called the Rigid State. Then it reverses in the same order it appeared for another 12 hours—(Flaccid state). What is rigor? Blood stops the natural bacteria in the body from going to town, but when it stops flowing from the heart all hell breaks loose with one chemical reaction after another that prevent the muscles from contracting, which makes the body stiff. Heat quickens the process and cold slows it.

The Greeks and Egyptians had their own system: Warm and not stiff: Not dead more than a couple hours. Warm and stiff: Dead between a couple hours and a half day. Cold and stiff: Dead between a half day and two days. Cold and not stiff: Dead more than two days.

Livor mortis or lividity or post mortem hypostasis (literally “after death state”) is the state of being blue, or colored blue. What is this? Blood stops flowing and pools in the vessels in the lowest point due to gravity. Wherever the body is in contact with, say, a floor, the skin becomes pale and ringed by lividity. It shows up 30 minutes to a couple of hours and stays fixed after 8 hours. The detective would know if a body had been moved if lividity had set in on the wrong part of the body.

A former noble of the court might well be familiar with strangulation and recognize the symptoms of that as well as recognize poisons, especially if he had been to the Italian courts where poisoning was prevalent. He would familiarize himself with the scent and symptoms of poisons to protect himself while on foreign soil. And his knowledge of many languages (as well as the ability to read and write) would serve him well in similar circumstances.

In the end, it’s really up to the cleverness of the detective to ferret out whodunit. Even given all the forensic help in the world, I don’t think there’s anything more satisfying then having one’s detective use his wits to find the culprit and bring the guilty party to justice.

Jeri embues her detective, Crispin Guest, with plenty of smarts and you can see him in action in an excerpt of her latest Medieval Noir THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, at her website www.JeriWesterson.com.


Chicks of Characterization said...

Wow what an interesting and informative post!!!
Love the cover of The Demon's Parchment!! Best of luck Jeri, this sounds like a great read!!!

Andrea :O)

Lia Slater said...

Ooh, I'm tempted to bookmark this post. Love this stuff! And, yes, I watch Dexter. Love it! And your books sounds wonderful, including the cover!

Julie Robinson said...

Thanks for this interesting post, Jeri.

Eliza, I thought I was a follower, but I guess I wasn't!! The things I have been missing . . . Well, I'm signed up now, so I'll get notification of any new posting, right?

Thanks also for The Darcy Cousins.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Egads, what a gory post. Just kidding. Lots of info here for mystery writers, but maybe that's why I don't write mysteries. Blood pouring from an arrow wound on a medieval battlefield is about all I can take. Also, like Julie (above) said, I thought I was a follower but I may not be.

Angela Johnson said...

Fascinating stuff. I'm going to bookmark this page also. Good to know for one day if one of my characters comes upon a dead body, etc.

I want to read the book now too.


Eliza Knight said...

Thanks so much for visiting us again Jeri! I enjoyed having you and so have the readers> :) Fascinating post!!! Love Dexter!

Jeri Westerson said...

Hello, All! Terrible when you are in a place that doesn't get internet service they way one is used to, so sorry for the delay in replying.

Joyce, my books aren't gory at all. It's the dark moodiness of the atmosphere that hints at those things, though there are dead bodies and occasional nasty fighting. Crispin is a lover, as well. :)

Thanks to all who commented and a special thanks to Eliza for letting me stop by.