This book examines the crimes and trial of French serial killer Joseph Vacher during the late 1800s within the larger context of the evolving developments in forensic and psychological analyses of crime. Vacher killed, mutilated and sexually assaulted numerous people both male and female in rural France and across a number of years. A particularly sharp magistrate (Emile Fourquet) and the renowned forensic scientist of the day Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne are finally able to stop Vacher’s killing spree and bring him to justice. There are a lot of diverse records of the case so Starr is able to tell a thorough account and also examine the question at the heart of book; “when is a person legally insane?”
I was expecting this to be a pretty matter of fact historical true crime book dealing with the birth of forensic medicine a subject I find pretty interesting. I was not expecting that the book would philosophically tackle the issue of insanity and the implications for culpability. The discussion of this issue really raised the bar and helped tie the story being told to the modern day where we still don’t fully understand the functionality of the brain and still wrestle with the question of responsibility.
Not necessarily a page turner but narrative enough to keep it very readable and compelling. Managed to use the story of one particular case to highlight the big leaps forward in forensic medicine that were taking place during the time period while also addressing bigger questions about the psychology of crime.