Clouds – Reason 10

Here are my TOP TEN REASONS for writing The Clouds Roll Away, the third (of many) Raleigh Harmon mysteries.

First up, #10: Dirty Forensics

Clouds Roll Away

My FBI sources often surprise me.

No. That’s not right.

They always surprise me. But especially the bureau’s geologists.

But outside of the FBI’s materials analysis unit, the rock-hounds don’t get much glory. Nothing even close to hairs-and-fibers. Or blood spatter. Even duct tape analysis is far more famous than mineralogy.

And that’s odd. Because on any significant crime, forensic geologists are usually among the first responders.

Sniper shoots at the White House?

FBI geologist and Special Agent Bruce Hall got the call. He was at a local mall, sped into DC, left his daughter in the White House kitchen eating cookies, and ran upstairs to check the window.

Why call a forensic geologist?

Because glass is made of silica. A good forensic geologist can study a window’s fractures and get a good idea of a gun’s caliber, sometimes even the location of the shooter.

Embassy blows up in Kenya? Again, call the geologists.

The FBI’s forensic mineralogists pawed through the blown-up building because construction products contain everything from nickel and gypsum to marble and dolomite. Since each elements has a distinct melting point, geologists can sometimes determine a fire’s temperature, which then leads to clues about which explosives might have been used.

When I was researching The Clouds Roll Away, I called that same agent who had bolted to the White House after sniper’s shot. (By the way, in my little Black Book of sources this now-retired agent Bruce Hall is listed as “Batman.”)

“Batman,” I said. “I’m kicking around this idea. Could forensic geology solve a cross burning?”

“Sure,” he said.

As he laid out the possibilities, while I asked my usual stupid questions, I suddenly saw the crime unfolding. A crime so good, so bad, so deliciously evil, it could easily wrack Raleigh Harmon’s brain for 300 pages, even if she is a geological genius.

“You see?” Batman said. “It always comes back to geology.”

Forensic geology makes its first appearance in The Clouds Roll Away in Chapter One. More geology shows up later—everything from chemical weapons to diamonds.

It always comes back to geology.

Here’s an excerpt from The Clouds Roll Away:

The cross had burned the back lawn like a branded emblem. The main beam seared twelve feet, four inches. The intersecting beam scorched almost five feet of grass.

Releasing my aluminum tape measure, letting it rattle closed, I wrote the numbers in my notebook and took several photographs. RPM stood to the side, quietly watching as I snapped on latex gloves, kneeled and pinched the soil. It smelled of soot and scorched minerals, like a doused campfire. But I pinched another sample and waved it back and forth under my nose, detecting something else. 

It smelled bitter and acidic.

Hate didn’t have a smell, I told myself. But maybe I was wrong.

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