(Thank you to Michael Joseph for the ARC)
Meet the forensic pathologist, Dr Richard Shepherd. A detective in his own right, he must solve the mystery of sudden and unexplained deaths.
He has performed over 23,000 autopsies, including some of the most high-profile cases of recent times; the Hungerford Massacre, the Princess Diana inquiry, and 9/11.
He has faced serial killers, natural disaster, ‘perfect murders’ and freak accidents.
His evidence has put killers behind bars, freed the innocent, and turned open-and-shut cases on their heads.
Yet all this has come at a huge personal cost.
Unnatural Causes tells the story of not only the cases and bodies that have haunted him the most, but also how to live a life steeped in death.
What does TWG think?
If you had said to me a few years back that I would be reading a book about pathology, I would have quite literally laughed in your face. As soon as someone spoke about death, I would walk out of the room because of the fear I had associated with it. Fast forward many, many years, and not only am I now reading books which are fictionally gorey, I am also reading non-fiction books about death, autopsies, and forensics. Funny how things can change, isn’t it?
There was just something highly intriguing by the title of this book and and the tagline on the cover; I just knew I had to read it.
Not only is ‘Unnatural Causes’ about some of the bodies which Dr. Shepherd has been faced with, it is also an honest account from the doctor himself, about how those autopsies affected both him and the people around him. The life that Dr. Shepherd chose was one which intrigued him from the moment he clapped eyes on a certain medical book as a young boy. His hunger for medicine and dead bodies put fire in his belly – it wasn’t just a case of accumulating dead bodies in the mortuary where he worked, it was also the mystery behind those deaths which spurred him on. However, his personal life suffered greatly because of his profession. I have no idea how he managed to switch from forensic pathologist, to husband and father, at the touch of a button, but I can only assume how difficult that must have been for both him and his family.
The detail in this book is second to none. Whilst there is a lot of medical language used, Dr. Shepherd gives explanations for the medical terms, and the terms used whenever he had to give evidence in court. I had never read a book about pathology, and to be honest, I was worried that I wasn’t ‘clever’ enough for a book of this calibre, however due to the simplistic explanations and incredible detail, I was able to understand and enjoy everything about this book.
It feels a bit weird saying that I enjoyed reading a book about death! It’s not that I enjoyed the fact that many people died, or the devastation each of the victims families had to faced, it was the science behind the post mortem’s and trying to reach a conclusion as to how that particular person died. Were drugs involved? Was it a murder? If so, was the victim killed in the place that they were found, or were they merely dumped there? The fact that Dr. Shepherd went as far as reenacting (as best as able) a murder in his own living room, trying to establish whether the culprit was left or right handed, really did open my eyes to what a pathologist actually did. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t just that which opened my eyes, I mean, the whole discussion regarding how a body is cut open during a post mortem, certainly stopped me in my tracks.
It is very clever how to realise just how our bodies work from the inside out, when at times we take that for granted because all we can see is the outside of our bodies. We don’t really think about what goes on inside unless we are getting checked for certain things. We know our hearts beat, but would you know how much your heart is meant to weigh? Would you know what type of body would rise to the surface first, should a body be found dead there? Would you be aware of internal body temperature? I know those answers now, but only because I have read this book.
Honestly, my brain was like a sponge soaking up all of the science throughout this book! It was extremely interesting, whilst also intense, how the book went on to discuss how the post mortem’s were carried out for the 9/11 attacks, as well as other unfortunate disasters. Plus, it’s not every day that you read about Princess Diana’s death from the pathology side instead of reading the conspiracies in the Daily Mail. I was blown away by the steps that had to be taken, the organisation, how courts were involved. Everything.
‘Unnatural Causes’ is an absolutely fascinating, honest and brutal account of life versus death and visa versa – I have learnt so, so much thanks to Dr. Shepherd. I highly recommend!