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Book Review: CSI: An Insider’s Guide to the TV Phenomenon by Titan Books

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While the series has come under attack numerous times because of the repetitive nature of its formula, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation remains in my opinion one of the best crime drama series television has to offer, continuously reinventing itself and keeping fans coming back again and again, even after ten years, for more of the team’s adventures.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a fast-paced police procedural show that focuses on the criminalists instead of the cops or the lawyers. It features both ‘criminals of the week’ as well as serial killers that plague the investigative teems for weeks on end.

There have been many amazing episodes in the last ten season that the show has been on air, but my favourite one remains the incredible Season 5 two-part finale, “Grave Danger”. Directed by Quentin Tarentino, the episode featured villain Kelly Gordon who kidnapped the CSI team’s own Nick Stokes, burying him alive with a camera, the live feed of which was sent back to the CSI lab who watched, agonized, while Nick’s oxygen slowly ran out.

At first, it seemed to me rather optimistic – perhaps unrealistically so – that Titan Books hoped that a mere 175 page insider’s guide would cover ten seasons of a show, especially one that has changed as much as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has. After all, there is only so much that thick, glossy paper with vibrant colours can do!

However, the forward to the book, written by Carol Mendelsahn (CSI’s Executive Producer) specifies that the objective of this insider’s guide isn’t to meticulously cover all aspects of the show, but rather to capture its life. And the team at Titan Books managed to do just that.

They first set the mood by presenting readers with a list of ten things they might not know about Las Vegas. It’s a rather interesting collection of data actually; some of these snippets of information are not surprising, like the fact that there are more than 200’000 slot machines in Vegas. Some snippets are rather shocking, like Las Vegas has some of the highest crime rates in the US (I really thought it was just a stereotype or an exaggeration!). And then there are the snippets of information that will make fans who collect random information very happy, like the fact that there are more than 35 wedding chapels in Vegas (which makes me wonder how many Elvis’ are running around).

The book then delves into the various characters that have been featured in the last ten seasons of the show, featuring the actors that have breathed life into them.

For obvious reasons, the book’s first in depth look at a character is Gil Grissom. His feature includes an in-depth and lengthy interview from Season Eight with the actor who portrays him, William L. Petersen, as well as a visit to Gil Grissom’s apartment (yes, you read that right). It also includes a list of Grissom’s top defining moments in the series – some of which you will agree with, some of which you won’t, and most of which you will definitely remember.

It’s not surprising that Sara Sidle gets the royalty treatment, too. The feature focusing on her includes a lengthy interview with Jorja Fox, who portrays her, and the ten top moments during her time on CSI.

There is another character that was a huge part of the show and made an unexpected and heartbreaking exit, and to whom a lengthy feature is dedicated. Warrick Brown’s death at the end of Season Eight still weighs heavily on the CSI team, almost satisfyingly so (imagine if he never was mentioned again, after all the years he was part of the show and the space he took in the team). This feature also includes a lengthy interview with the actor who portrays the character, Gary Dourdan, and a list of Warrick’s defining moments.

All the other major characters have their own features, too, as do some of the series’ most shocking and memorable villains. Some of the interviews are exclusives for this book while some are from previous seasons, but all serve to capture the essence of the character as seen by the actors who portray them.

Some of the exclusive interviews include Marg Helgenberger (who portrays Catherine Willows) and Wallace Langham (who portrays David Hodges), while the season by season interviews include both main characters and notable villains.

The rest of the list is quite impressive. Each season has at least one interview with a character whose role was particularly prominent or of particular important that year. The interview for Season Two is with Nicki Aycox, who portrayed Ellie Brass, Captain Jim Brass’ daughter. The Season Three interview is with Timothy Carhart, who portrayed Eddie (Catherine’s ex), the slimy man no one was particularly sad to see go. Season Four’s interview was with Scott Wilson, the actor who portrayed Sam Braun, Catherine’s father (he was a tough character to either like or hate, wasn’t he?). There are two Season Eight interviews; the first one, which kicks off the book, is with William L. Petersen (he plays Gil Grissom). The second one is with Robert David Hall, who portrays the quirky coroner Doctor Al Robbins.

There are also (thankfully) interviews with the actors portraying some of my favorite characters on the show, i.e. George Ead (Nick Stokes), Eric Szmanda (Greg Sanders) and Paul Guilfoyle (Captain Jim Brass). We also have an opportunity to meet the newbies through interviews with Lauren Lee Smith (Riley Adams) and, of course, with the awesome Laurence Fishburne, who portrays Grissom’s replacement, Raymond Langston.

But what I really find fantastic is that space was given not only to the good guys, but also to the bad guys whose effect on the show was big despite their relatively short appearances. After all, each case affects the members of the CSI team, and it only makes sense that the most shocking of these criminals be featured in an insider’s guide.

The Season One interview is with Matt O’Toole, who portrayed one of the most memorable villains in that season of CSI, i.e. Paul Millander (remember him? Creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepy guy!). Season Six’s interview was with Juliette Goglia, who portrayed CSI’s youngest criminal suspect, 12 year-old Hannah West. The Season Seven interview was with Jessica Collins, who portrayed Natalie Davis, i.e. the Miniature Killer (and fans know how much importance that character had). The Season NIne interview was with Conor ‘OFarrell, who portrays the slimy and horrid Jeffrey McKeen (whom, had he not died, would have died many a gruesome death in fanfics all over the Net).

I particularly loved the Season Five interview, since it was with Aimee Graham, the actress who portrayed Kelly Gordon in the two-art finale “Grave Danger” (the one directed by Quentin Tarantino, the epic one that I watched over and over and purchased on DVD just to watch again and again).

The insider also revisits three classic CSI episodes: Season Six's “A Bullet Runs Through it” is analyzed while we are treated to the storyboards used by the production team for Season Eight’s season premiere, “Dead Doll” depicting Sara Sidle’s fight to get out of the waterlogged car under which she was pinned.

There are also science guides looking a little further into the various procedurals we have been seeing on screen for years, like fingerprinting, an overview of how autopsies are done and a simplified guide to odontology. There is also a lengthy interview with make-up expert Matthre W. Mungle, whose work on CSI makes the crimes it depicts all the more gory.

The book is topped off with two CSI Scrapbooks. The first is an eight-page set of behind-the-scenes pictures, something that is always great to see. The second is a four-page Season 10 scrapbook, capturing some typical moments and others more poignant ones. A CSI glossary ends a book peppered with many cast.

In short, CSI: An Insider’s Guide to the TV Phenomenon is a great book to go over the spirit of the last 10 years of a great TV show. It’s a book that a lover of the show would really enjoy going through and a new fan might want to have to visit the past and prepare for the future

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