I’ve just had real eye-opener into how little some medics know. Let me start by saying that I have met many doctors over the years and I have great respect for some, but certainly not for all of them. I admire especially all those who have an open mind, the ones who freely admit that “medicine is not an exact science”, and are willing to accept that there may be other remedies and cures beyond those they know about, for the ailments their patients have.

Peter and ‘Friend.’

But this will shock all of you, I am sure: In my new novel, Dead Man’s Footsteps, (I am currently working on my editor’s notes) I have a scene in which a skeleton is discovered in a disused underground storm drain in Brighton. A forensic archaeologist is brought in by Roy Grace to help establish whether the body is male or female. I was introduced to an eminent real life forensic archaeologist, Lucy Sibun, who works regularly for Sussex CID, who gave me a great deal of help.

Lucy explained (as you will read in the book) that there are certain specific differences between a male and a female skeleton. Here is a unique sneak preview of this scene: (!!)

She was peering at the skull. ‘The slope of the forehead is quite upright – men tend to have a much more sloped forehead,’ she said. Then, holding the torch in her left hand and pointing at the rear of the skull with a gloved right hand forefinger she said, ‘the nuchal crest is very rounded.’ Then she tapped it. ‘If you feel the back of your skull, Roy, it’ll be much more pronounced – it normally is in males.’ Then she looked at the left ear cavity. ‘Again the mastoid process would indicate female – it’s more pronounced in the male.’ Next, she traced the air in front of the eyes. ‘See the skull brow ridges – I’d expect them to be more prominent if this was a male.’
‘So you’re reasonably sure she’s female?’ Grace asked.
‘Yes, I am. When we expose the pelvis I will be able so say one hundred percent, but I’m pretty sure. I’ll also take some measurements – the male skeleton is generally more robust, the proportions are different.’

As I think many of you know, I am a stickler for research and try to double check everything I write, and I have a small network of police, medics and other knowledgeable people I use to help me. One of my “fact-checkers” emailed me that he had sent the above passage to an eminent heart surgeon he knew, to see if I had the details correct. The surgeon asked him why on earth I needed to go through all the stuff above, as everyone knew that males had an extra rib (Adam’s rib) – so all that anyone at the scene needed to do was to count the ribs and they would know. Simple as that!

I emailed this information to Lucy Sibun, and this was her reply: “It is amazing how many people believe in this but, unfortunately, the extra rib is just a myth. So no, it can’t be as simple as that.”

So how scary is that? A surgeon who doesn’t even know the rudiments of a human skeleton??? So my warning to all of you, next time you meet an arrogant doctor who tells you he knows best – beware! Perhaps even try the ‘ribs’ test on him!!!