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Review - Mapping Murder: The Secrets of Geographical Profiling - David Canter 

 

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A rare opportunity to see an area of application of science that is all too often overlooked: crime detection, and specifically the use of the geography of criminal events to help understand the criminal(s).

David Canter's book brings out the effectiveness of geographical profiling over and over again - and emphasises how much common police practice overlooks the sort of approach that can make best use of the information available. Canter is also quite scathing about "Cracker" style profilers - which occasionally rings a little odd, as he dedicates a couple of quite lengthy sections of the book to elements that would be better labelled psychological profiling.

In fact, Canter himself is a psychologist, and when the reader sees his achievements, it's hard not to wonder what a proper applied mathematician - say an operational (operations) reseacher would do to carry forward his work. There's something of the inspired amateur about it, which makes fascinating reading, but is surely limiting the value to police work. (Canter is a professor, but a professor of psychology).

Covering some high profile cases including the US Washington snipers, Belgian Marc Dutroux, Britain's Fred West, Peter Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper), Jill Dando's killer and even the original Jack the Ripper, it is hard sometimes to detach from the horror of the crimes committed and take a scientific, analytical approach - something perhaps that partly explains why the police have not rushed to take up more mathematical means of pinning down offenders. But there's no doubt that the topic has a (not entirely morbid) fascination.

The only other real complaint about this book is poor editing. There are more than the usual level of typos, and the first chapter is painfully repetitive and could be productively cut to a third of its present length (feel free to skip read it to get to the more interesting stuff).

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Reviewed by Brian Clegg       

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Last update 05 June 2007