Monday, February 20, 2012

Monkey Monday: Smelly Detectives

Real-life investigators as well as fictional detectives often times use their sense of smell to solve murder mysteries. Police officers need very little skill to detect alcohol on a drunk driver's breath, and collect scent evidence from a crime scene which is as important as fingerprints - since each individual has a unique body odour - "By definition, scent is the 'bacterial, cellular, and vaporous debris enshrouding the individual' known collectively as 'raft', this debris consists primarily of dead or dying skin cells, which the body sheds at a rate of approximately 40,000 each minute. Air currents project the raft upward and away from the body, much like a plume. The debris becomes deposited in the environment in a conically shaped pattern known as the scent trail"...

Sherlock Holmes used his sense of smell on more than one occasion, being able to identify the 75 perfumes of his time (he surely will have harder time now!) and detect other odours in the crime scene, which helped him solve several murder mysteries. When losing his eyesight temporarily, Monk manages to solve the case in the episode “Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse”; and when there is a garbage strike, he can't concentrate on the case. Agata Christie "killed" more than one of her "victims" with cyanide, leaving a trail of bitter almonds and marzipan as a clue to the cause of death. And in Denise Hamilton's several Noir novels, there is a significance to the sense of smell; but particularly in her latest "Damage Control", where the central character is a perfumista and in which a perfume serves as a key clue.

"...anyone "with a nose for" crime should be able to sniff out culprits from their tweed, India ink, talcum powder, Italian leather shoes, and countless other scented paraphernalia. Not to mention the odors, radiant and nameless, which we decipher without even knowing it. The brain is a good stagehand. It gets on with its work while we're busy acting out our scenes. Though most people will swear they couldn't possibly do such a thing, studies show that both children and adults, just by smelling, are able to determine whether a piece of clothing was worn by a male or a female." (Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Sense).

Even in our mundane lives, we act as detectives using our noses to find out if our date is a smoker or not; if our kids have dipped into the chocolate chip cookie jar or bothered to brush their teeth; and amuse ourselves by guessing which soap or shampoo our friends use. Our sense of smell is keener and far more important to our ongoing gathering of information than most of us would ever care to admit...

What about you? Have you ever used your sense of smell to solve "crimes" around your house or to clue in on something that your friends, coworkers or family members have been plotting behind your back?

Share your stories by leaving a comments below, and enter to win a mini of Film Noir.

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11 Comments:

At February 20, 2012 10:33 AM, Blogger nekosan said...

I just remember finding the hidden Easter and Christmas candy (hidden waiting for the appropriate holiday) by walking around the house and sniffing out the chocolate.

Apparently my older brother did this once with one of my grandmothers - my parents went out shopping for Christmas, he sniffed out chocolate hidden in the Christmas tree ornaments, and he and my grandma opened them all up and ate all the chocolate!

 
At February 20, 2012 11:25 AM, Blogger Ginger Ciao said...

OMG - I have been reading mysteries like crazy the last few years and I have been saving a gagillion quotes wondering what to do with them. Our sense of smell of course is linked to our fight or flight - apparently criminals and geniuses have acute sense of smell.

From Ian Flemming's James Bond, Dr. No, Horizons of Agony...Bond took a cigarette from the silver table-lighter. He smelled bad news coming...

 
At February 20, 2012 12:25 PM, Anonymous Maureen said...

I remember that the priests in my parish all seemd to wear Old Spice. Whenever I smell incense now, it reminds me of Old Spice, even though I don't think insense is a part of that fragrance.

 
At February 20, 2012 2:39 PM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Nekosan,
I just used my chocolate-sensing antena to identify the contents of a package that arrived in the mail today from Switzerland - without ever bothering to open it ;-)

 
At February 20, 2012 2:41 PM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Ginger Ciao -
Love that quote - and would love to read the rest of your collection sometime :-)
You forgot one more "profession" that tends to have a strong sense of smell - mothers!
I can tell when my kid is fighting a bug just by the smell of her breath...

 
At February 20, 2012 2:41 PM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Maureen -
I'm surprised your priests wore Old Spice, but I'm not surprised at the incense association. Old Spice does have some frankincense in it (Or at least it's listed as a "note").

 
At February 21, 2012 3:07 PM, Anonymous Fiona said...

This one doesn't require a particularly keen sense of smell - but years ago, when working with students, I used to frequently track the ones smoking cannabis by following the scent. I got to dislike it so much, I'm afraid I can't stand the smell to this day.

 
At February 21, 2012 3:48 PM, Blogger Moecha said...

The excerpt you quoted from A Natural History of the Sense got me curious about this book, I will most definitely extend my readings to English-speaking authors! Speaking of which.. it's not much of an investigation, but I like to sniff open books so I can "smell for myself" the quality of the paper and take a guess at how well it will age.

 
At February 22, 2012 11:04 AM, Anonymous Lindsay said...

It's not quite solving a mystery, but this weekend I rediscovered an old coat that was a hand-me-down from my grandmother. It was buried deep in the recesses of my storage closet, and I could smell it before I actually saw it- old leather and lavender (she douses everything in lavender.)

 
At February 24, 2012 10:41 AM, Anonymous Rina Liddle said...

I have used my nose to detect natto coming a mile away, that stuff will never contribute to my health because my nose is not fooled :)

 
At February 24, 2012 10:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I can tell when someone needs to wash their bath towels. Bath towels get a funky, sour smell that unfortunately stays on anyone who uses one. @Fiona I too can't stand the smell of marijuana, awful smelling stuff; pungent, sour, funky like a skunk farting sage.
Brian

 

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