In the wrong hands, When the Dogs Don’t Bark might have become yet another ‘how to’ guide about thinking logically and avoiding cognitive biases. It’s much more than that. Forensic science and criminal justice, like non-fiction, require skilful storytellers to make a sequence of facts speak loudly and truthfully. Gallop mounts a powerful case that the rigour of our judicial system is worth defending, because anyone, even you, ‘might come up against it in an immediate and personal way’.
If it is strangely unaffecting on an emotional level, it is still fascinating stuff. The reader, too, becomes more gripped by the forensic details than the horrors of each case. When Gallop’s husband hangs from scaffolding in their garden, in a meticulous reconstruction of the mysterious death of the banker Roberto Calvi, they both conclude that he could not have killed himself. It was Gallop’s work, and that of her colleagues, that helped bring Damilola Taylor’s killers to justice. It was her work that finally led to the conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris for killing Stephen Lawrence, 18 years after he was left to bleed to death.
Gallop’s book is not for the squeamish and she admits to “disengaging the emotional side of my mind” to do the work: “You have to be stoical to be a forensic scientist.” As with the best fictional detectives, it is the intellectual challenge of the job that motivates her, despite the often gruesome nature of her work: “Every complicated puzzle solved is a source of immense satisfaction.” This is a fascinating scientific memoir of a life dedicated to uncovering the truth behind some of the most shocking crimes. And a book that will be essential reading for every aspiring crime writer.