Pointing from the grave
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Weaving together cutting-edge genetics and forensic criminology, courtroom drama and multiple perspectives, Weinberg's book is an ambitious and riveting tale of crime and the science that has been developed to counter it. In 1984, Helena Greenwood, a chemical pathologist and successful executive in the burgeoning biotech industry, is sexually assaulted in her San Francisco home. Paul Frediani is eventually arrested as the primary suspect-after he is caught exposing himself to a 13-year-old girl. But following the initial arraignment, Greenwood is found viciously murdered in the front yard of her new home in Southern California. Lacking conclusive evidence, the police store Greenwood's bloodied clothing and fingernail clippings in Ziploc bags, the case is shelved and the murder goes unsolved for 15 years. Although this crime is not as sensationalistic as some, Weinberg plucks out the gripping details and fortifies her account with a crisp history of DNA, from Watson and Crick's discovery of the double helix to the pitched legal battles over the validity of DNA evidence. Weinberg (A Fish Caught in Time) is at her best when she is the beat-stomping journalist faithfully letting her well-chosen story tell itself. She is far less assured, however, with hard-hitting metaphors ("One by one, she picks up Bartick's points, then neutralizes them, as if killing mosquitoes with a giant can of Doom"), and least successful when she tries to write herself melodramatically into the story: "I have been sucked into the spinning spirals, and even if I wanted to jump out, I do not think I could." Thankfully, Weinberg rarely gets in the way.