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Extended Audio Sample The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science Audiobook, by Douglas Starr Click for printable size audiobook cover
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 Davies Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2010 ISBN: 9780307875761
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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

  • “Chilling . . . An exemplar of historical true-crime nonfiction. Mark Dunkelman, Favorite Books of 2010, The Providence Journal

  • Absorbing . . . Starr’s thought-provoking journey, through the strange underbelly of a vividly rendered France, lingers in the reader’s memory. Elyssa East, The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
  • Engrossing and carefully researched.             The New Yorker
  • A- . . . Gripping, almost novelistic . . . Like an episode of CSI: 19th-Century France. Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly
  • Riveting. Laura Spinney, Nature
  • Gripping . . . Starr’s description of the legal, medical and even philosophical questions around Vacher’s responsibility are strikingly current. Drew DeSilver, The Seattle Times
  • The perfect true-crime book to curl up with on an autumn night. Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch
  • 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. Elizabeth Humphrey, San Francisco Book Review
  • A gripping book that alternately appalls and fascinates. Mark Dunkelman, Providence Journal
  • Superior . . . This book is sensational and swift. But its real strength is the ability to show the history and progress of forensic science and its effect on the criminal justice system . . . This book reads like fiction and fascinates with fact. Bethany Latham, Historical Novel Review
  • Lively . . . With drama and stunning detail, Starr documents one of the earliest examples of criminal profiling, Vacher’s murders, his arrest, and the twists and turns of the trial that followed. The Killer of Little Shepherds is an important contribution to the history of criminal justice. It is crisply written, meticulously researched, and rich in historical detail. Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen
  • Douglas Starr’s riveting, sophisticated book provides the distance and perspective needed to facilitate systematic but critical thinking about forensic science. Stanley J. Morse, PsycCritiques
  • Fascinating . . . Compelling . . . Written with the dramatic tension of a good novel and the impeccable detail of a well-researched history. Erika Engelhaupt, ScienceNews
  • Deft . . . Admirable . . . Riveting . . . The Killer of Little Shepherds is deeply rooted in historical sources and subtle context, but Starr also has a journalist’s flair for the colorful detail. John Williams, The Second Pass
  • Graceful and accessible . . . The granddaddy of all true crime stories. David Walton, Louisville Courier-Journal
  • Expert . . . You’ll be richly rewarded . . . A good book that will keep you reading.             The Crime Segments blog
     
  • Eloquent . . . Starr creates tension worthy of a thriller.             Starred review, Publishers Weekly
  • 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

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  • 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 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 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 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 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. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Erica | 1/20/2014

    " Fascinating look at early forensic science, gross killer, great period piece. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cory | 12/30/2013

    " Very interesting case study of a serial killer and history of forensics. Not overly technical which makes it an easy read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Keith Schmidt | 12/17/2013

    " Everyone involved in criminal justice, psychology, psychiatry, and interested in the debate concerning responsibility for actions should read this book! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Eric | 12/13/2013

    " Engaging and quick read on early forensics plus the prevailing way of thinking at the time. It definitely paved the way for crime solving. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Christina Dudley | 12/12/2013

    " Fascinating if gruesome story of late 19th- century serial killer and the developing forensic sciences that finally led to his capture and conviction. It kept me turning pages, even though it was sometimes too stomach-turning to read at the table! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jasonb | 12/11/2013

    " If you want to learn about the early history of forensic science I suggest this book for the a European slant. And the The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York for early US forensic science. Both together give a good look at the early histories. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Inken Purvis | 9/21/2013

    " Fascinating, gruesome and intriguing for true crime and CSI fans "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Emily | 8/27/2013

    " Surprising book. Hard to believe they solved these types of murders at the turn of the century without all the technology that we have. These men were the Fathers of Forensic Science. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jenny | 7/11/2013

    " This is a real-life, turn-of-the-century, Sherlock Holmes-like story. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ashley | 7/9/2013

    " Interesting and informative narrative of the birth of modern forensics and a terrible case it was used in. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ronald | 4/9/2013

    " The title says it all. This was a little hard to read (if you are squeamish, don't even consider it), but quite informative. The chapters alternate between the crimainl investigation in France of a terrible serial killer and the science that was evolving to help solve crimes. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Chad | 1/13/2013

    " Interesting read. A great description of how far we have come in the study of forensic science. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jen | 9/21/2012

    " This was an interesting look on forensics. I learned quite a bit, especially about a case that was predicted to become the stuff of legend and then never did. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Robert | 11/9/2011

    " Interesting story of crime fighting without the mental acrobatics of a sherlock but also pre CSI "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Susan | 11/9/2011

    " I was excited to read this - hoping it would be in the vein of The Alienist by Caleb Carr. This is a work of non-fiction that has some very interesting sections; however, it is way too repetitive and could have been better done in half the pages. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jenny | 3/26/2011

    " This is a real-life, turn-of-the-century, Sherlock Holmes-like story. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Chad | 3/1/2011

    " Interesting read. A great description of how far we have come in the study of forensic science. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Phebe | 2/17/2011

    " Although this got a bit dull, it is true crime history and includes a lot of information about the beginnings of modern detective work. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ellen | 2/10/2011

    " Well-written and well-researched; interesting story and interesting science. There's some missing ingredient here that means I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a first foray into the genre (The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher might be a better choice), but it was a satisfying read for me. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Joyce | 1/22/2011

    " Recounts, in great detail--so not for the faint of heart--the murders of serial killer Joseph Vacher and how the science of medical forensics, just developing at the end of the 19th century, enabled him to be caught, brought to trial, and condemned to death. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Diana | 1/19/2011

    " The author skillfully weaves the true story of a 19th century French serial killer, and the men working at the same time to establish the new science of forensic medicine. "

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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, The Christian Science Monitor, and Time, and has served as a science editor for PBS-TV. He lives near Boston.
About the Narrator

Erik Davies is an accomplished audiobook narrator and voice-over actor. His stage credits include G.R. Point, Unpublished Letters, and Flats Fixed. Some of his television and film appearances include ER, Third Watch, and a starring role in the hit indie comedy High Society: A Pot Boiler. His audiobook narration has won three AudioFile Earphones Awards.