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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (1,343 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Douglas Starr Narrator: Erik Davie Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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A riveting true crime story that vividly recounts the birth of modern forensics

At the end of the nineteenth century, serial murderer Joseph Vacher, known and feared as “The Killer of Little Shepherds,” terrorized the French countryside. He eluded authorities for years—until he ran up against prosecutor Emile Fourquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, the era’s most renowned criminologist. The two men—intelligent and bold—typified the Belle Époque, a period of immense scientific achievement and fascination with science’s promise to reveal the secrets of the human condition.

With high drama and stunning detail, Douglas Starr revisits Vacher’s infamous crime wave, interweaving the story of how Lacassagne and his colleagues were developing forensic science as we know it. We see one of the earliest uses of criminal profiling, as Fourquet painstakingly collects eyewitness accounts and constructs a map of Vacher’s crimes. We follow the tense and exciting events leading to the murderer’s arrest. And we witness the twists and turns of the trial, celebrated in its day. In an attempt to disprove Vacher’s defense by reason of insanity, Fourquet recruits Lacassagne, who in the previous decades had revolutionized criminal science by refining the use of blood-spatter evidence, systematizing the autopsy, and doing groundbreaking research in psychology. Lacassagne’s efforts lead to a gripping courtroom denouement.

The Killer of Little Shepherds is an important contribution to the history of criminal justice, impressively researched and thrillingly told.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Starr’s heavy immersion into forensics and investigative procedure makes interesting reading…[A] well-documented mix of forensic science, narrative nonfiction, and criminal psychology.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Eloquent…Starr creates tension worthy of a thriller.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Graceful and accessible…The granddaddy of all true crime stories.”

    Louisville Courier-Journal

  • “Riveting, yet cerebral…Besides focusing on Joseph Vacher, also known as the Killer of Little Shepherds, Starr explains and expands on the fascinating achievements of those studying the criminal world.”

    San Francisco Book Review

  • “The perfect true-crime book to curl up with.”

    Richmond Times-Dispatch

  • “Gripping…Starr’s description of the legal, medical, and even philosophical questions around Vacher’s responsibility are strikingly current.”

    Seattle Times

  • “Chilling…An exemplar of historical true crime nonfiction.”

    Providence Journal

  • “Absorbing…Starr’s thought-provoking journey, through the strange underbelly of a vividly rendered France, lingers in the reader’s memory.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • A 2010 New York Times Editor’s Choice
  • Winner of the 2011 CWA Gold Dagger for Nonfiction
  • A 2011 Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominee for Best Fact Crime

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Cath | 2/20/2014

    " Well written account of a true crime in France of the "French Jack the Ripper" . As fascinating was the serial killer, the criminologist back then, Dr.Lacassagne, kept me interested as he is one of the earliest beginning forensic science. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Janette | 2/2/2014

    " Overall very interesting--amazing what forensics was like a century ago. Some parts were not so engaging. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Lauren | 1/31/2014

    " Pretty good though I thought it was going to be about more than one case. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Angela | 1/28/2014

    " Excellent telling of both the beginnings of forensic science and of the killing spree of serial killer Joseph Vacher. Both stories are well told and were excellently woven together. My interest in the story did diminish after Vacher's trial, thus the 4-star instead of 5-star rating. "

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About the Author

Douglas Starr is codirector of the Center for Science and Medical Journalism and a professor of journalism at Boston University. His book Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce won the 1998 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and became a PBS-TV documentary special. A veteran science, medical, and environmental reporter, Starr has contributed to many national publications, including Smithsonian, Audubon, National Wildlife, Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Time, and has served as a science editor for PBS-TV. He lives near Boston.