Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Guest Post: Unique DNA Search Catches the Grim Sleeper

By DJ Swykert
The underlying theme in The Death of Anyone, Melange Books, poses the Machiavellian question: Does the end justify the means? Bonnie Benham, the lead detective in my story, has her own answer. But the legality of this question will be answered in a real life courtroom in the California trial of a serial killer dubbed by the media: The Grim Sleeper.

Lonnie David Franklin, the Grim Sleeper, was caught because his son’s DNA was the closest match to DNA collected at the crime scenes in the database. Investigating Franklin’s son led them to investigate Lonnie Franklin. But there was no direct DNA evidence that linked Lonnie to the crime scene until they obtained a sample from him after his arrest. Lonnie Franklin will be the first person in the U.S. to ever stand trial for murder based on this type of evidence, and its admissibility issues will be thoroughly tested by defense attorneys.

Only two states at this time, California and Colorado, have a written policy concerning the use of Familial DNA in an investigation. The admission of Familial DNA, with its potential Fourth Amendment violations, has never been tested in court. The California trial of Lonnie David Franklin will become a landmark case for the future use of Familial DNA Searches by law enforcement agencies nationwide.

This is an update on the legal progress of the trial. Franklin was arrested on July 7, 2010, The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office charged him with ten counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and special circumstance allegations of multiple murders in the cases. A grand jury indictment was issued on March 23, 2011. The Grim Sleeper has been resting comfortably in jail since his arrest awaiting trial; the large quantity of evidence in this case, some dating back thirty years, has caused a lengthy pretrial discovery. The trial was originally scheduled to begin the summer of 2014, but was put on hold. It was rescheduled for June 30, 2015, but that didn’t happen. On Monday August 17, 2015, at a pretrial hearing, the trial was rescheduled for October 14, 2015.

I first heard of the technique while working as a 911 operator in 2006. It came up in a conversation with officers. I thought at the time it would make an interesting premise for a book. I began writing the mystery some three years later after leaving the department. I had just finished editing a first draft of The Death of Anyone in the summer 2010 when news of The Grim Sleeper’s capture in Los Angeles was released. I read with interest all the information pouring out of L.A. regarding the investigation and the problems confronting prosecutors. All of which are explored in The Death of Anyone.

In my fictional story Detroit Detective Bonnie Benham has been transferred from working undercover in narcotics to homicide and is working the case of a killer of adolescent girls. She is a straight forward investigator who describes herself as a blonde with a badge and a gun. CSI collects DNA evidence from the scene of the latest victim, which had not been detected on the other victims. But no suspect turns up in the FBI database. Due to the notoriety of the crimes a task force is put together with Bonnie as the lead detective, and she implores the D.A. to use an as yet unapproved type of a DNA Search in an effort to identify the killer.

The Death of Anyone is available on the Melange Books website and also on in Kindle and print formats.

Author Bio:
DJ Swykert is a former 911 operator writing and living in the Cincinnati area. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Coe Review, Monarch Review, the Newer York, Lunch Ticket, Gravel, Zodiac Review, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include Children of the Enemy, Alpha Wolves, The Pool Boy’s Beatitude and The Death of Anyone. You can find him at:
He is a wolf expert.
Book Synopsis:
Detroit homicide Detective Bonnie Benham has been transferred from narcotics for using more than arresting and is working the case of a killer of adolescent girls. CSI collects DNA evidence from the scene of the latest victim, which had not been detected on the other victims. But no suspect turns up in the FBI database. Due to the notoriety of the crimes a task force is put together with Bonnie as the lead detective, and she implores the D.A. to use an as yet unapproved type of a DNA Search in an effort to identify the killer. Homicide Detective Neil Jensen, with his own history of drug and alcohol problems, understands Bonnie's frailty and the two detectives become romantically involved as they track this killer of children.

You can read the first chapter on the Amazon Link: or on my website page:

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Dr. Dre offers public apology to ‘the women I’ve hurt,’ Apple responds

From Digital Trends, article by Stephanie Topacio Long :

Dr. Dre

'Dr. Dre’s “grand finale” as a rapper likely hasn’t gone quite how he expected. Shortly before the release of the biopic Straight Outta Compton, detailing the rise of his influential hip-hop group, N.W.A., the music mogul and Apple consultant announced that he was dropping his first album in fifteen years, as a sort of final bow. But, while both projects have been extremely successful, they’ve also ignited controversy, dredging up assault allegations against Dre (real name Andre Young) that fit into the timeline of the movie, but were noticeably absent from the plot.

As the voices surrounding Dre’s past transgressions grew louder, the music mogul finally addressed the issue on Friday. In a New York Times statement, he issued an apology to “the women [he’s] hurt.”

“Twenty-five years ago I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life,” said Dr. Dre in his statement to the Times. “However, none of this is an excuse for what I did. … I’m doing everything I can so I never resemble that man again.”

The growing controversy, and subsequent apology also prompted the music consultant’s new employer, Apple, to make a statement addressing the issue. In a short release, Apple said “Dre has apologized for the mistakes he’s made in the past and he’s said that he’s not the same person that he was 25 years ago. We believe his sincerity and after working with him for a year and a half, we have every reason to believe that he has changed.”

The accusations that Dr. Dre is answering for are brutal and “too ugly for a general audience,” according to one of his accusers, Dee Barnes, in an essay on Gawker. She described an attack in which Dre allegedly smashed her head repeatedly against a wall. Ultimately, he pleaded no contest to charges of assault and battery.

Dr. Dre’s apology is certainly an improvement over previous comments about such allegations. In 1991, a Rolling Stone interview quoted Dre as saying, “it ain’t no big thing – I just threw her through a door,” about the incident involving Barnes. But different times require different measures. Now a billionaire businessman, as opposed to a gangster rapper, Dre and his multi-billion dollar employer are hoping this will put the issue to rest once and for all.'

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Drowned Cities by Paulo Bacigalupi

Soldier boys emerged from the darkness. Guns gleamed dully. Bullet bandoliers and scars draped their bare chests. Ugly brands scored their faces. She knew why these soldier boys had come. She knew what they sought, and she knew, too, that if they found it, her best friend would surely die.
In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man--a bioengineered war beast named Tool--who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.This thrilling companion to Paolo Bacigalupi's highly acclaimed Ship Breaker is a haunting and powerful story of loyalty, survival, and heart-pounding adventure.

(Source: Hachette Book Group)

My Review:
I loved Ship Breaker so, so much. It was amazing. So I when I randomly saw Drowned Cities for sale right at the front of a book shop I had randomly decided to go into, I took it as a sign. And it was my birthday, so I obviously had to buy it for myself.
The setting of this book at some indeterminable time in the future is part of what makes it so interesting. America has fallen, climate change has literally drowned entire cities and the Chinese are the peacekeepers, rich and distant leaving America to rot. Survival is the only thing people care about anymore.
There are several narrators, although Mahlia is the main one. She has seen awful things. Her mother was killed, her father abandoned her and her hand was cut off by the Army of God - one of the many rampaging military units coercing child soldiers to do unspeakable acts on their behalf. And yet, while Mahlia is hard (she has to be to survive) she is also reckless when it comes to saving Mouse, the only person she really loves.
Mahlia is a real narrator and a complex one - her struggle between survival and doing what is right is delved into and is not an easy choice.
On occasion I found this book a little didactic - the message clear that doing what is right isn't always sensible or easy. But this is a small criticism as I could not put this book down. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The weaker sex

From the Economist:

IT’S all to do with their brains and bodies and chemicals,” says Sir Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College, a posh English boarding school. “There’s a mentality that it’s not cool for them to perform, that it’s not cool to be smart,” suggests Ivan Yip, principal of the Bronx Leadership Academy in New York. One school charges £25,000 ($38,000) a year and has a scuba-diving club; the other serves subsidised lunches to most of its pupils, a quarter of whom have special needs. Yet both are grappling with the same problem: teenage boys are being left behind by girls.

It is a problem that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. Until the 1960s boys spent longer and went further in school than girls, and were more likely to graduate from university. Now, across the rich world and in a growing number of poor countries, the balance has tilted the other way. Policymakers who once fretted about girls’ lack of confidence in science now spend their time dangling copies of “Harry Potter” before surly boys. Sweden has commissioned research into its “boy crisis”. Australia has devised a reading programme called “Boys, Blokes, Books & Bytes”. In just a couple of generations, one gender gap has closed, only for another to open up.

The reversal is laid out in a report published on March 5th by the OECD, a Paris-based rich-country think-tank. Boys’ dominance just about endures in maths: at age 15 they are, on average, the equivalent of three months’ schooling ahead of girls. In science the results are fairly even. But in reading, where girls have been ahead for some time, a gulf has appeared. In all 64 countries and economies in the study, girls outperform boys. The average gap is equivalent to an extra year of schooling.

(Read the full article here)

Sunday, 15 March 2015

RIP Terry Pratchett

The first Terry Pratchett book I ever read was Mort. I'd received it in a box full of other unwanted books and it was the only one I kept. I had heard of Terry Pratchett before, but had been rather dubious about reading his work because the people who had recommended him to me were people whose tastes did not usually coincide with mine. But the cover was interesting and the blurb intriguing so I read it. 

And I loved it.

During year 12 when I was working and actually had money I bought the entire Discworld series over several months. Each week I would go and buy three or four during my free periods.

Eventually, I had the whole collection and several check-out assistants who seemed to think it a little odd that I brought Pratchett books so regularly.

I read and re-read everything.

Granny Weatherwax, Sam Vimes, Tiffany Aching and Death were a few of my favourites. 

Terry Pratchett impacted so many lives in not only his books, but also his advocacy for Alzheimer's research. And he impacted mine. And I want to thank him for that.

"It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life."
~ Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett at home near Salisbury in 2008: the Discworld cats were an infamous set of characters in their own right

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Gender segregated visits to schools is a thing

From Publising Perspectives:
At School Library Journal, Lauren Barack looked at the way that some public schools exclude boys from school visits by female authors.
Shannon HaleTake the case of Shannon Hale, author of the “Princess Academy” series (Bloomsbury). On a recent book tour for her latest title,Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters (2015), while speaking at a K-8 school, “she discovered that boys and girls were in the audience from the younger grades – but boys from upper grades were not invited.”
Hale, who has written about this on her blog and on Twitter, told Barack that this is the fourth time while on a book tour that boys were excluded from her readings.
“My books are gendered as being for girls,” she told the SLJ. “This is what happens to writers [of books] with girls on the cover, especially princesses. It’s so normal for me.”
Other authors have reported experiencing the same thing. But lest you think it’s just princess-type books that are involved, think again. Urban also went on tour for her novel A Crooked Kind of Perfect (Harcourt, 2007), which tells the story of an aspiring pianist, a 10-year old girl, who plays an old organ her father buys her instead.
At one school visit, there were 30 middle school girls in the audience, but not one boy.
Later, Urban learned that the Illinois school librarian who hosted the visit had decided not to invite boys. The librarian “proudly told me that mine was not the first book that he knew wouldn’t be for boys, and he had done a similar small-group thing the year before for another female author,” she told Barack in an email.
She added that the librarian told her about an “upcoming visit by a male author who would “appeal to everyone.”
“Admittedly, this male author is dynamite – a great presenter and terrific writer and very popular with young readers,” she said. “I’d have been excited to attend his event, too. But the assumption that his book, with its male protagonist, would be for everyone” – while hers wasn’t – “made me crazy.”
Understandably so. Author Kate Messner told Barack that while she has never had a gender-segregated audience, she is concerned that “segregating boys from so-called girl books does more than just keep them from titles they may enjoy. It teaches boys that women speakers and female characters have nothing to offer them.”
Urban also asks why educators should “choose to make decisions for boys and girls based on gender – and nothing else.”
(Read the full article here)
Splitting books by gender and telling boys that 'girl' books are not for them is how boys grow up not reading female authors. There is nothing 'natural' or 'normal' about boys not reading female authors. It is societal conditioning.
There is a long-standing myth that girls will read anything, while boys will only read books about boys - if they read at all. The market is over saturated with books about boys, so is it any wonder that if girls want to read and be a part of any cultural conversation they will have to read books about both boys and girls. Whereas boys (and girls) are raised seeing girls as 'less than' ('You kick like a girl', 'don't cry like a little girl' etc.). In a culture where being a girl is an insult, changing the current dynamic into a more equable one could help young children understand this by say, having female authors talk to both girls and boys. What a missed opportunity.

Monday, 9 March 2015

<b>It's been a while! </b> Well, a lot has happened since I last posted! There was Christmas for a start and the New Year. And my partner and I have also moved not only house, but city! It's very exciting.
It also means I am no longer Caravan Girl. Instead, I am one-bedroom flat girl (catchy, eh?). The good thing about living in a caravan for so long is that our new flat seems downright enormous. I mean, there are actually cupboards that can fit more than two things! And there is a BATHROOM! And running water! And did I mention the BATHROOM??? It's fantastic.
So that is why I have been extraordinarily anti-social of late. I've just been far too busy. Still, it's a new year and I have so many book reviews to catch up on and general bookish subjects to talk about. I'm very excited!