Thursday, November 01, 2018

34. Without a Trace by Background GmBH

I can't even remember where I found this book now, possibly in a box of books on the sidewalk.  It's a guide to police detection techniques written in 1977 by a far-left radical group in Switzerland. The version I have is a reprint by Partisan Press in Seattle 3 years later.  I was interested in it mainly for the time period and some insight into policing methods that would be relevant to the genre of books I tend to read.  I had been putting off reading it for some time along with the few other non-fiction books on my on-deck shelf but with my current spurt of reading energy decided finally to take it on.

At first it was really quite laborious.  I really struggle reading non-fiction. On top of it, the intro is dripping with the vocabulary of late 20th century intellectual left dogma.  I consider my politics to be fairly left-leaning (what we would call "progressive" today) and even quite radical in some areas.  But god do I balk at the nerdy rigidity of this particular form of thinking where everybody is a comrade and the bourgeoisie are this evil force.  It is probably the biggest failure of the left (and most ironic), its insistence on verbal conformity and taking itself so seriously, an issue we still see with us today in the internet sphere of leftist politics, though the language has varied.  Anyhow, I digress (and probably have already labelled myself as some kind of traitorious middle-roader).  My point is that I was having a hard time with the lack of narrative and feeling annoyed by the rhetoric.

As I progressed through the book, however, I began to enjoy it more and more.  The bulk of it is straightforward and well-written.  It is a broad survey of the various techniques that police forces use to investigate crimes.  The word they use the most is "trace" but I think they meant "clue".  They explain how detectives can find clues in voice recordings, typewriters, handwriting, explosion and arson scenes, guns and bullet wounds, fibres and materials.  It's a fascinating look at the state of forensic analysis and tools at this time period.  Much of the techniques are pretty outdated today, though probably form the foundation of many current techniques.  It is amazing the detailed work the cops go through and how difficult it is for "criminals" (a bourgeois label filled with bias) to neutralize the evidence.  There is an afterword where the writers mockingly explain what they went through to ensure that they could not be identified by this booklet (the original one), buying paper in small batches from several producers, destroying all the identifiable parts of the offset printing press that made it and so on.

And it is at this point by the end that this book got really entertaining.  They editorialize much more and there is some hilarious stuff.  Here is a paragraph from a section on ordering helpful material directly from book publishers and dealers.

Many or most of these works are written by and for the police, military, and intelligence communities, which has both positive and negative aspects.  On the one hand, frequently the practical and theoretical expertise of the authors cannot be questioned, despite the political despicableness of the presentation.  On the other hand, because many of the books are written for the ignoramuses who staff these government agencies, they are frequently boring and unenlightening for the intelligent reader.

That immediately made me think of the narcs and DEA agents pissing in their boots while on stake out in the Freak Brothers comics.  The bibliography at the end is gold.  There are several books that I need to add to my list that I discovered here, including Operation Ogro by Julen Agirre about the assassination of the Prime Minister of Spain and Franco's right-hand man and The Final Score by Emmet Grogan.

It's also a very revealing look at the mentality of the time and how much more freedom (at least of thought and expression)we have achieved since that time in the West.  Or perhaps how much more information we have access to and can share because of the internet.  Also a warning in these darkening times that extreme repression is always lurking.

As I read the book, it basically fell apart at the spine.  I was planning on recycling it but think I may now get it repaired and keep it on the shelf.

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