A Christmas Gift from The Juror Investigates

You can now download a free short story from “The Juror Investigates Series.” “The Odds of Death” (starring librarian-juror Miss T. Iris Ginge) is available as a free download (PDF) at LULU.COM. Click to open the download window.

“The Odds of Death” is an excerpt from Light Pages, LLC’s forthcoming collection of my short stories (The Evil That Men Do), several of which have been previously published in such periodicals as Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and HandHeldCrime.

In “The Odds of Death”  as a member of a murder jury Iris grapples with statistics. The crime lab expert testifies that blood found at the scene of the crime could only have come from the defendant. But it’s the 1950s. There was no DNA–only blood types and “factors.”

For information on The Evil That Men Do and other free downloads from the collection, please visit Light Pages, LLC.

Abuse of Statistics by So-Called Expert Witnesses—Melanie McGuire

Jurors may be the “finders of fact” under the law, but they should not be expected to evaluate dueling expert witnesses. In most cases, when experts disagree about scientific evidence, the problem lies with how “junky” the science in evidence is.

When the law first called jurors the “finders of fact,” the phrase was never contemplated to mean “finding scientific truth in disputed data.” The phrase meant “those who determine what really happened.” Most of the facts in question in the early days of jury trials were which of the witnesses were lying and which telling the truth.

A clear abuse of forensic science in court occurred in the New Jersey murder trial of Melanie McGuire. A prosecution witness, Frank Ruiz (whom I believe works in the commercial plastic-bag manufacturing industry) purported to prove that black, plastic, trash bags in which the victim’s body parts were found matched (conclusively) some black, plastic, trash bags used by the victim’s (and defendant’s) family to collect the victim’s clothing. (See the Asbury Park Press, April 15, 2007). As I recall from hearing his testimony, he concluded that there was less than a 1% difference in the chemical makeup of the plastic in the two sets of bags and this was negligible in the context of bag-manufacturing processes.

However, Sally Ginter (I believe, a retired Dow Chemical lab expert) testified for the defense that the difference wasn’t merely a 1% difference between the bag’s total of one chemical, it was a 200% difference. She said something to the effect that one bag had 1% of chemical A, while the other bag had 2% of chemical A—that is a 100% increase over the first bag (twice as much, in other words a 200% difference). Since I watched her testimony carefully, I know that she was right—not Ruiz. The bags were substantially different.

Ruiz did not know the difference between 1% of a whole and 2% of whole, which is 100% more of the substance in question. When the lawyers cross-examined him about it, he became sarcastic and said that it was obvious there was only 1% more (1% plus 1% is 2%—or words to that effect). He even was permitted to say “case closed” on the stand.

The judge didn’t bat an eye. (I did see him smile sarcastically, though, when the defense attorney said in his closing arguments that there was reasonable doubt in the case.)

My point? If the judge couldn’t tell junk science from fact, how can you expect a jury to do so?

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on Deadly Dishes


To summarize, detective stories, like classical dramas, observe a unity of time, lasting from a few hours for short Sherlock Holmes cases to several days for most book-length stories. Within this time, fictional detectives must give undivided attention to the mystery, while often needing to justify their actions and defend themselves and the crime victims.

Police detectives like Leaphorn, Chee, and Maigret risk that superiors in the police department will re-assign the case, or will cave in to pressure from political influences and cancel the investigation. Private eyes like Spenser or the Continental Op worry that their employers will become impatient and cut off their expense accounts or will block activity that compromises their interests. Criminals are always threatening to strike new victims or preparing to escape, and they often brutally attack their pursuers — they always seem to be catching Jim Chee in deserted locations on the reservation and blowing up his truck, they routinely send V.I. Warshawski to the hospital for a night, and they constantly engage Spenser and Hawk in fist fights and fire fights.

With all this rush, pressure, and danger, regular meals are a clear indication of the presence of reality and passage of time. Breakfast descriptions, emphasizing the arrival of each new morning and the state in which the detective finds himself, reinforce the reader’s impression that detectives are committing themselves to their missions with their every waking moment.

Mystery Stories

Christie, Agatha. Dead Man’s Folly. New York, Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 1956.

Christie, Agatha. Hallowe’en Party. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1969.

Christie, Agatha. A Holiday For Murder. New York, Bantam, 1962 (Original Publication: Murder for Christmas, 1938).

Christie, Agatha. The Mystery of the Blue Train. New York, Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 1971 (Original Publication: 1928).

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. New York, Berkeley Publishing, 1963.

Hammett, Dashiell. Red Harvest, New York, Vintage/Random House, 1972. (Original date: 1929)

Hillerman, Tony. A Thief of Time. New York, Harper, 1988.

Hillerman, Tony. People of Darkness. New York, Harper, 1980.

Hillerman, Tony. Talking God. New York, Harper, 1989.

Paretsky, Sara. Burn Marks. New York, Dell, 1990.

Paretsky, Sara. Deadlock. New York, Dell, 1984.

Parker, Robert. Playmates. London, Penguin, 1989.

Parker, Robert. Walking Shadow. New York, Berkeley, 1995.

Simenon, Georges. Maigret and the Apparition. New York, Harcourt, 1964, transl, 1976.

Simenon, Georges. Maigret and the Hotel Majestic. San Diego. Harcourt, 1942, transl, 1977.

Simenon, Georges. Maigret Meets a Milord. Harmondsworth, England; Penguin, 1931, transl, 1963.

Other Books

Freeling, Nicolas. The Kitchen Book; The Cook Book. Boston, David R. Godine, 1991. (Orginal dates: The Kitchen Book, 1970; The Cook Book, 1972)

Gorman, Ed, et al. The Fine Art of Murder. New York, Carroll & Graf, 1993.

Larmoth, Jeanine. Murder on the Menu. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972.


A note from Postcard Mysteries: Mae Sander’s culinary blog is particularly “palatable” to me because of its literary twist. Mae blogs about books—mainly cookbooks—but also travel books and all books with an interesting twist on food. Partly as a result of her influence, I’ve decided to start a separate blog that addresses “all things criminal,” especially fictional crime. Don’t worry, though, the plight of jurors is my special cause, and I promise to keep blogging here until they pry my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard.


Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on American Indian Detectives’ Food


American detectives are much more prone to indulge in hearty morning meals. In the midst of masses of detail on Indian religious rituals, customs, and foods, such as lunches of green chili stew, Tony Hillerman’s detectives’ breakfast shows you what kind of men they are. For example, Joe Leaphorn’s breakfast makes him miss his recently dead wife Emma:

He showered, inspected his face, decided he could go another few days without a shave, made himself a breakfast of sausage and fried eggs — violating his diet with the same guilty feelings he always had when Emma was away visiting her family. (A Thief of Time, p. 98)

Jim Chee, Hillerman’s other detective, lives a bachelor life. After one restless night:

He rose early, made coffee, and found four Twinkies abandoned in his otherwise empty bread box to round out his breakfast. It was his day off, and time to buy groceries, do the laundry, check three overdue books back into the Farmington library. (Thief, p. 270)

When Chee breakfasts alone in Washington DC, it’s a "cheese omelet in the hotel coffee shop" (Talking God, p. 183). Leaphorn also eats a late breakfast in the unfamiliar atmosphere of his hotel coffee shop, but we don’t hear what food this alien environment has to offer him. (p. 211)


Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM.

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on ‘Jazz Age Detectives’

Even the Continental Op, Dashiell Hammett’s famous and often imitated detective, eats breakfast occasionally, getting over the previous night’s bootleg whiskey or dubious women. At a crucial point in Red Harvest, he even mixes his booze with laudanum, which reminds us we are reading a story from the 1920s. In this book, the Op spends quite a lot of time with such a woman, an associate of the mobsters. He needs her because she has information about the crime wave that he’s investigating. In one scene, he describes her behavior:

Her eyes were shiny because they were wet. She jabbed a handkerchief into them as we got out of the car.

‘My God, I’m hungry,’ she said, dragging me across the sidewalk. ‘Will you buy me a ton of chow mein?’

She didn’t eat a ton of it, but she did pretty well, putting away a piled-up dish of her own and half of mine. (Red Harvest, p. 75)

He spends the evening with her, trying to get information:

She decided she was hungry again. That reminded me that I was. It took half an hour or more to get waffles, ham and coffee off the stove. It took some more time to get them into our stomachs and to smoke some cigarettes over extra cups of coffee. (Red Harvest, p. 85)

Not long after their last meal together, she is murdered by one of the many criminals in the story. And the next morning, he says simply: "I ate breakfast alone." (p. 167).

Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM.

IL Supreme Court and IL Governor Scandal: The Real Monsters of the Midway

I suppose by blogging about Blagojevich I’m guaranteed not to be called up for jury duty in his trial. Whoever said blogging didn’t have its benefits?

IL Attorney General Lisa Madigan—never known as a friend of Gov. Blago—has asked the IL Supreme Court to decide whether he is “fit” to serve. It’s a Hail-Mary pass if there ever was one. The IL Supremes are bound to kick this one out of court (did you know that one of the IL Justices is Bob Thomas, former kicker for the Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears?). Even though IL has needed to kick out Gov. Blago for quite some time, it would be a very bad thing if the courts in this country could decide who gets to hold high office in this country.

  • This is why the U.S. Supremes are likely to deny any appeals of the lawsuits involving the President Elect’s citizenship. No matter who you voted for, you have to admit that this country would be ravaged by any court decision that prevented the first African American from becoming President. In addition, it was freed African slaves who were made naturalized citizens and were enfranchised by the 14th Amendment—and the whole issue of naturalization is at the heart of the current controversy.

National news media are completely misinterpreting what’s going on here in IL, by the way. They apparently haven’t even read the IL newspapers for the past two years, let alone actually visited the state to ask a few questions. If they had they would know the state capitol has been the site of a horrific battle: Republicans and half the Democrats have been trying to oust Blago for a long time because of his high-handed, arrogant ways. Most people suspected him of corruption, too.

In fact, in the November election we had an opportunity to vote for a referendum to allow recall elections for state officials. I thought it was a slam-dunk to pass (I know, basketball metaphor, not football), because I thought Democrats and Republicans alike wanted to get rid of Blago.

I was wrong: the referendum failed.  It’s hard to believe. Several months ago I was shocked to learn there is no recall provision in the state constitution. I thought that was one of the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution (namely, the right to petition the government for redress of grievances).

So, why is the Attorney General trying this end-run around the legislature to get rid of Blago? Because she knows that the legislature is stuffed with politicians who gave and took from Blago. It will likely be impossible to impeach him. And the alternative—to ram legislation through to call a special election for the second IL Senate seat—is also likely to fail for the same reason.

I’m curious to find out what’s going to happen to that Senate seat. The people who were willing to pay the big bucks for appointment are going to have to punt away any offer from Blago now. So, it seems to me that he’s most likely to appoint himself or his wife—it may be the only way he can accumulate a little political capital to use against the feds. If that happens, the Senate Dems will have to refuse to let him caucus with them. Of course, he could just skip town—maybe go to Cuba. That was the former governor’s favorite place to take junkets—before he was thrown in jail for pay-to-play. (That’s right, Cuba. Here’s my ignorance showing again: I thought a U.S. passport wasn’t valid for Cuba.)

Ah, Illinois politics!

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on ‘Boston Pretensions’

Spenser, the highly stereotyped detective in Robert B. Parker’s series, eats his way through almost every mystery, set mainly in Boston. The atmosphere – and the food — offers a big contrast to Hillerman’s southwest.

In Playmates, Spenser’s job is to investigate a college sports scandal; he establishes the terms of the investigation over several lunches and dinners with college officials and the coach. Next morning, the investigation continues as Spenser has breakfast with the basketball player suspected of manipulating the score. Since Spenser ate johnny cakes that morning before leaving his girlfriend’s apartment, at the restaurant he takes only coffee. Therefore, he can be an observer while the player eats "four fried eggs, over easy, two orders of bacon, home fries, four pieces of white toast, two large orange juices, and two containers of milk." (p. 37)

Another version of this scene takes place in Walking Shadow: an interviewee eats pancakes while Spenser just has coffee (p. 86). During this story, he and his partner also end up hanging out at a muffin shop where they choose from "blueberry, bran, corn, banana, carrot, pineapple, orange, cherry," and around 10 other flavors. (Shadow, p. 94)

When Spenser and his cohorts act like ordinary cops, of course they go for coffee and donuts (Shadow, pp. 77, 131). Predictable stereotypes and brand names dominate Parker’s writing. Throughout each story it’s eat, eat, eat, (with occasional breaks at a bar for a drink) always with Spenser showing his delicacy and sophistication no matter how crude or how refined the dining establishment!

Spenser’s gourmet tastes are always contrasted with the indifference to food and cooking shown by his girlfriend, the elegant and refined Susan. For example, while he experimented with cooking the johnny cakes in Playmates, she was sipping coffee; her picky eating reveals her character in book after book. Her refrigerator is always bare, unless Spenser does the shopping at a convenient gourmet market; he especially likes the market at Boston’s Fanuil Hall.

Above all, Spenser shows his virtue by his choice of food. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes not: "I looked at my cold seafood assortment. I looked at Healy’s steak. I was glad I wasn’t eating it. I was glad I was eating cold seafood. Cold seafood was virtuous." (Shadow, p. 221)

The food details are consistent with Parker’s very mannered style. Unlike other fast-moving detective stories, Parker’s stories don’t emphasize violence — in Playmates, the sympathetic characters are never hurt or killed, the only deaths are a guilty basketball player who is never "onstage" and a number of hired hit men, shot instantly when they attack Spenser. It’s all a part of Parker’s post-modern extension of the hard-boiled detective story.

Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM.

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on ‘Country Houses and Other British Stuff’

The upper class environment in the British mystery differs dramatically from the American hard-boiled detective story with its very physical atmosphere and wide individual and class differences

English mystery meals may be served by land-ladies in genteel studios or by butlers in well-appointed dining rooms. Jeanine Larmoth, in Murder on the Menu, a book about the portrayal of social customs in English mysteries, summarizes the food situation this way:

In mysteries, food is . . . one of the few means of creating an impression of life. Emotions are avoided; even physical realities are kept at a minimum. People don’t breathe, except their last; they have hysterics, but they rarely cry; only the most suspicious characters sweat; bathrooms are merely places where baths are drawn and pills are switched. In short, food serves an important function in giving a sense of reality. (Murder on the Menu, p. 157)

Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories convey a maximum of suspense in a minimum of text. Meals indicate that time is passing normally, in a world that is normal in spite of being inhabited by the intellectual giant Holmes. When Holmes calls for a quick supper before he moves in on the criminals, it’s not what he has to eat, but the timing and the contrast with as-yet unsolved crimes that are important. Breakfast can illustrate Holmes’s habits or the ordinary life of Dr. Watson. For example, in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" Watson begins his narration: "We were seated at breakfast one morning, my wife and I, when the maid brought in a telegram. It was from Sherlock Holmes . . .." (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, p. 78)

The contrast between menacing evil and mundane detail is very strong in ‘The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb." As the story begins, the newly mutilated engineer comes to Dr. Watson for medical help; although it is early in the morning, as soon as Watson has provided basic first aid, he brings him to Holmes, in order to try to find out who has attacked him with a cleaver and severed his thumb. As they arrive, you are reminded of the regularity of Holmes’s existence by this description:

Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sitting-room in his dressing-gown, reading the agony column of the Times and smoking his before-breakfast pipe . . .. He received us in his quietly genial fashion, ordered fresh rashers and eggs, and joined us in a hearty meal. (Adventures, p. 207)

Once they have eaten, Holmes hears the bizarre story of the engineer’s previous night, and goes off with him and Watson to try to catch the counterfeiters who have done the evil deed. If anything, Doyle is the most clever of all the mystery writers I know at using food clues to set the stage for his stories.

Agatha Christie uses food to create atmosphere and show character. She uses apples as a theme in Hallowe’en Party, which begins when a young girl is murdered by drowning in a bucket that had been used for bobbing for apples. Elsewhere in this story food indicates hospitality — in a shallow sort of way. The murderess (as we will later learn) offers detective Hercule Poirot "morning coffee with two sugared biscuits" (Party, p. 55); a more sympathetic hostess, the sister of an old inspector friend, offers him tea and sausage "cooked to perfection" (Party, p. 71)

When he is alone, Poirot’s food choices show him to be simultaneously picky and sophisticated — for example, his valet serves him a "tisane" or some chocolate (The Mystery of the Blue Train, p. 150 & 171).

In some Agatha Christie stories such as A Holiday for Murder and The Mystery of the Blue Train, meals are mentioned to mark the passage of time, but she rarely provides details about what the various detectives, suspects, or policemen had to eat. In others, Christie the descriptions are lavish, portraying a whole array of characters in terms of their food choices. For example, in Dead Man’s Folly:

Poirot came down to breakfast on the following morning at nine thirty. Breakfast was served in prewar fashion: a row of hot dishes on an electric heater. Sir George was eating a full-sized Englishman’s breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and kidneys. Mrs. Oliver and Miss Brewis had a modified version of the same. Michael Weyman was eating a plateful of cold ham. Only Lady Stubbs was unheedful of the flesh-pots and was nibbling thin toast and sipping black coffee. (Folly, p. 43-4).

Oddly, we learn nothing of what Poirot himself chose to eat at this revealing meal.

Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM.

Guest Blogger: Mae Sander on Parisian Crime Food

In detective stories, you need to learn as much as possible as fast as you can. Detective writers use lots of different kinds of details to tell you about the detectives and the cases– often, this includes food and drink. From the solicitous attention of Madame Maigret to the indifference of Spencer’s girlfriend Susan, and from the fussy old-maidish tastes of Hercule Poirot to the macho life-style choices of V.I. Warshawski, breakfast in particular reveals much about fictitious detectives.

A French Detective Gourmet

Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret is renowned for the hearty French cooking of his wife and for the cafes and restaurants where he seems to go during every investigation. Most of the time, food, along with other details, serves to point to Maigret’s lower-class origins, and particularly, to establish his common background with the criminals that he is investigating. Food tastes and attitudes also help to distinguish him from higher-class suspects or witnesses that he must interview.

When Maigret is at home, Madame Maigret fixes his coffee for breakfast; this is consistent with French habits where little else is eaten early in the morning, except perhaps some bread. When he’s in a hurry, he may not have time to drink it, as in Maigret and the Apparition. In contrast, during the tense questioning of suspects at police headquarters, he orders beer and sandwiches from a nearby cafe at any hour, even at breakfast time.

In Maigret and the Hotel Majestic, the entire story centers around a breakfast cook in a large hotel; Simenon describes every detail of the guests’ breakfast from the point of view of the harried workers below the elegant hotel rooms. Maigret feels much more comfortable in the lower depths of the service quarters than above, with the elegant and wealthy guests. His class feelings also come up when he goes to the home of the breakfast cook, where dinner simmers on the stove. Immediately afterwards, in his own home, the stew that Madame Maigret is cooking smells exactly the same as the one he had just smelled in the home of the cook, a man implicated in a murder (Hotel Majestic, p. 35.) Madame cooks stew often, in these stories, building up the homey atmosphere that contrasts to the police station and seedy crime scenes.

Check out Mae Sander’s blog: MAEFOOD.BLOGSPOT.COM