Tremors in the Blood: Murder, Obsession, and the Birth of the Lie Detector

by Amit Katwala


SYNOPSIS – A thrilling account of the creation of the so-called lie detector, exploring shocking murders and dramatic trials to uncover the true nature of the polygraph. This tense true crime story is perfect for fans of American Predator and The Invention of Murder.

Late one evening in the summer of 1922, Henry Wilkens burst through the doors of the emergency room covered in his wife’s blood. But was he a grieving husband, or a ruthless killer who conspired with bandits to have her murdered?

To find out, the San Francisco police turned to technology and a new machine that had just been invented in Berkeley by a rookie detective, a visionary police chief, and a teenage magician with a showman’s touch.

John Larson, Gus Vollmer and Leonarde Keeler hoped the lie detector would make the justice system fairer – but the flawed device soon grew too powerful for them to control. It poisoned their lives, turned fast friends into bitter enemies, and as it conquered America and the world, it transformed our relationship with the truth in ways that are still being felt.

As new forms of lie detection gain momentum in the present day, Tremors in the Blood reveals the incredible truth behind the creation of the polygraph, through gripping true crime cases featuring explosive gunfights, shocking twists and high-stakes courtroom drama.

Touching on psychology, technology and the science of the truth, Tremors in the Blood is a vibrant, atmospheric thriller, and a warning from history: beware what you believe.


MY THOUGHTS – This was an interesting deep dive into a vintage murder of a wife/mother of 2 back in 1922. It follows the invention of the lie detector and how this case and others played into the success of the machine. They began to feel that the woman’s husband was involved in her murder after it was at first considered that he passed the test. Very good information on Gus Vollmer, a one-time mailman, and how he got into police work and changed it for the better in many ways.



PUBLISHER – Crooked Lane Books – 352 pages

PUBLICATION DATE – Mar 8th, 2023

MY RATING – 4/5 STARS


ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Amit Katwala is an award-winning journalist and editor. He is a senior writer at WIRED, based in London. He writes about the collision between technology and culture, and has covered everything from the race for quantum supremacy to the hunt for the mysterious Planet Nine. He grew up in Bournemouth, and studied experimental psychology at Oxford University.


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