by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the latest Forensic Handwriting book by Sheila Lowe, Written Off. We also have an interesting guest post by Sheila about the new book, forensic handwriting, and serial killers. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an EBOOK copy of Written Off, and a link to purchase it from Amazon and an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
“Written Off” A Forensic Handwriting Series By Sheila Lowe
Review by Cynthia Chow
It started out as a simple favor. Unable to fly by plane following hip surgery, psychotherapist Zebadiah Gold asks his friend Claudia Rose to fly to Maine in his place to interview a serial killer. Roxanne Becker was the subject of a book being written by Professor Madeleine Maynard, but her recent death has the manuscript unfinished and left to Zebadiah to complete. To meet the publication deadline he is asking Claudia not only to pick up the manuscript from Madeleine’s home in Summerhays, Maine, but to use Claudia’s skills as a professional forensic handwriting analyst to further enhance the study of female serial killers.
Los Angeles native Claudia is completely out of her element at the height of Maine’s freezing winter, not to mention her being housed in Madeleine’s enormous but eerie manorial home. A housekeeper who practically yanks away the welcoming mat, a stray prickly graduate student living rent-free, and a plethora of self-involved, neurotic academics further increase Claudia’s unease and suspicion. What completely unsettles her is the discovery that Madeleine may have been conducting her own unethical experiments, some involving her own troubled graduate students.
There are so many reasons why I adore this latest entry in the Forensic Handwriting Series. Early on author Sheila Lowe creates the classic trapped-in mystery scenario, with Claudia snowed in with strangers and not knowing whom to trust. The claustrophobic feeling is pervasive, especially as new secretive characters are introduced and Claudia feels further isolated. The presentation of forensic handwriting is outstanding, as it is showcased both as a quantifiable science and as a method of deciphering personality quirks and histories.
While her hosts attempt to use Claudia’s skills as a parlor trick for a faculty party, she turns the power-play around with brilliantly scientific explanations. Psychology, serial killers, and twisted academics all combine into a riveting read that captures the attention and never lets go. Fans of the series will enjoy the attention on Claudia’s personal relationships, but the true star of this novel is the detailed analyst and interpretive strengths of forensic handwriting. Claudia proves to be a talented forensic scientist who retains her sympathy not just for criminals who may have once been victims themselves.
Written Off Forensic Handwriting Analysis
by Sheila Lowe
In Written Off, the seventh book in my Forensic Handwriting suspense series handwriting expert Claudia Rose accepts the task of interviewing a female serial killer who has been in prison for two decades. Serial killers have been done to death (sorry, couldn’t resist) in mystery and crime novels, and I wanted mine to be unique, not the same evil monster who has appeared in books from Silence of the Lambs to Dexter.
The fact is, most serial murders are committed by men, so by virtue of my character, Roxanne Becker, being a woman she is unusual. But that was not enough. I wanted her to be a woman who, although she had been convicted of heinous acts, would be seen as more than just her crimes, which might be inexcusable, but perhaps to some degree were explainable. By describing her impoverished childhood in details that made my editor uncomfortable, and by giving her children who were lost to her but for whom she still longed, I hoped my readers would see Roxanne as a whole person.
As my protagonist is a forensic handwriting analyst, she is deeply interested in what Roxanne’s handwriting reveals about her personality. It turns out that there were letters the serial killer had written over a long period of time, a treasure trove of material.
Many years ago, I wrote a monograph, “Serial Killers, The Face of Evil.” In it I examined the handwritings of several serial murderers to see whether I could find any commonalities between them. If only it were that easy! In reality, this is an enormously complex subject, but it can be boiled down to this basic fact: handwriting can reveal important information about what motivates the writer. In the population I was looking at I found that there were indeed important red flags that pointed to pathological behavior. Unfortunately, those red flags were different in each handwriting.
There is no magic “this means that” correlation, no direct relationship between any single stroke of handwriting and a personality trait such as “if you cross your t-bars up high it means you have high goals.” How you dot your i’s or the size of your loops provide a bit of information, but those things are not particularly useful unless viewed within the context of the writing sample where they appear. To make an accurate assessment, the analyst has to look at the whole picture.
In the case of the serial killers, one thing I did observe was that their handwriting got tighter, more tense once they were incarcerated. Their murderous urges didn’t just go away because they’d been caught. In prison they had to follow the rules; there was no way for them to release those urges and a buildup of rage was reflected in the tense rhythm of their handwriting. An example is the sample of Aileen Wuornos included here. You might think the handwriting is pretty or well-organized, but a handwriting professional views it differently. It shows emotions held tightly that when unreleased over a long period of time can cause problems. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but writing rhythm is one of the fundamental elements that reveals a great deal of important information.
Does handwriting predict that someone is going to be a serial killer? No, humans are too complex for that. But handwriting can expose the important motives behind behavior, whether it’s the need for love, money, power, respect, or something else. And that knowledge unlocks the key to a question we tend to ask in the wake of a particularly monstrous act: “why would she do something like that?”
Claudia Rose is not an amateur sleuth, and she generally does not solve crimes using handwriting analysis. What she does is use handwriting analysis to understand the good, the bad, and the even worse. And that information often does lead to solving the crime.
To enter to win an EBOOK copy of Written Off, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “written,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 13, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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