Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

When Do Bones Lie?

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Still no power at our house, but thanks to the great kindness of friends, we are safe and warm (THANK YOU so much, Dr. McE and Alix!). I can’t blog from my regular computer, so please excuse any typos, etc.

When do bones lie?? Never! At least not according to my book Bones Never Lie! The subtitle is “How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries” and my editor Kathy Lowinger helped me match up forensic techniques with famous mysteries involving royals (I explored a similar topic in my book Royal Murder.)

Here are some of the stories I wrote about in Bones Never Lie and because I love amazing triva, I’ve followed the name of each tale with one fantastic fact that I included in that chapter:

* Maya king Kan Maax and his family (Jade was more valuable to the Maya than gold.)

* The Man in the Iron Mask (Since no one ever saw this legendary figure, some people have wondered if the mask hid the face of a woman.)

* Thailand’s King Rama VIII (His brother, and possible murderer, ascended to the throne and is now the longest-serving, living head of state. He’s also the richest royal in the world, worth more than $30 billion. But there are very few photos of him smiling …)

* Grand Duchess Anastasia, Czar Nikolay’s daughter (John F. Kennedy once said that Anastasia’s story was the only part of Russian history that really interested him.)

* King Tut (Approximately 130 walking sticks were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, even though the king died at about age 19.)

* Marie Antoinette’s son (There is a stretch of DNA almost 1 meter (3 feet) long in every cell of your body. Even identical twins have slightly different DNA.)

I also wrote a chapter about the death of Napoleon Bonaparte. At least 300,000 books have been written about Napoleon and his times, and yet there is still a lot of argument over how this leader died. You may know that Oscar Wilde reportedly said on his death bed, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.” Most people know think Napoleon died fighting cancer, but for a long time some people thought Napoleon’s wallpaper may have actually killed him.

When the wallpaper in the exiled commander’s home on Saint Helena was analyzed, it was found to contain arsenic. Saint Helena is a very damp island, and the wallpaper could easily have become moldy. That would break down the arsenic in the dye, releasing it into the air. Napoleon spent a lot of time indoors in his final years, since he hated the feeling that he was always being watched by his captors. Some experts said that’s why he was poisoned by the wallpaper, while others who lived there but who went outside more often were not. Talk about killer decor.

While writing Bones Never Lie, I not only learned a lot about royal mysteries, I also found out about forensics, including:

* The first forensic autopsy ever, performed in 44 BCE revealed that although Julius Caesar was stabbed by many knives, it was the second knife would that killed him

* It wasn’t until 1901 that a test was devised to distinguish human blood from animal blood found at a crime scene.

* World’s first crime lab opened in 1910 in Lyons, France. Police detective Edmond Locard set up the facility and devised a basic principle of forensic science: “Every contact leaves a trace.”

* It was 100 years ago that French forensics professor Victor Balthazard described how bullet markings make every bullet unique.

* DNA analysis has only been used since 1984 to solve crimes.

This was another book I worked on with the terrific team of designer Sheryl Shapiro and photo researcher Sandra Booth. I’m sorry if people are tired of me singing their praises, but book reviewers have also commented on how great Bones Never Lie looks.

Sheryl made the book look very modern by framing text in images of computer monitors, iPads and more. She also scattered throughout the book photos of various tools forensic scientists use. Sandra found some especially evocative photos for the chapter openers — take a look and see if you don’t agree with me.

And Another Thing …
Now the cynics out there may say Boxing Day (December 26) get its name because it’s the day when you box up all the presents you received that you don’t like and take them back to the stores to exchange them.

Actually, no one knows for sure where the name comes from. It may come from a British tradition of servants and tradespeople receiving a gift or “Christmas box” from their bosses or employers on the day after Christmas. On this day, money and other gifts were given to the needy, so perhaps there’s a connection to the Alms Box that sat in churches to collection donations for the poor.

As well, December 26 is the Feast of Saint Stephen (what “Good King Wenceslas looked out on”) when special offerings were collected in metal boxes outside churches.

I’m a veteran of many Boxing Day campaigns — I love those bargains! — and I’m sure I’ve seen shoppers boxing with each other over their place in line! So who knows where the name comes from?!

Happy First Day of Kwanzaa and thanks for reading.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Elizabeth MacLeod

Award-winning author Elizabeth MacLeod has written over 50 books for children. Her most recent book, Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries, was published by Annick Press.

Go to Elizabeth MacLeod’s Author Page