Unnatural Causes by Richard Shepherd reviewed

Unnatural Causes Book Cover Unnatural Causes
Richard Shepherd
Michael Joseph
September 20, 2018

The dead do not hide the truth and they never lie. Through me the dead can speak ... As the country's top forensic pathologist, Dr Richard Shepherd has spent a lifetime uncovering the secrets of the dead. When death is sudden or unexplained, it falls to Shepherd to establish the cause. Each post-mortem is a detective story in its own right - and Shepherd has performed over 23,000 of them. Through his skill, dedication and insight, Dr Shepherd solves the puzzle to answer our most pressing question: how did this person die? From serial killer to natural disaster, 'perfect murder' to freak accident, Shepherd takes nothing for granted in pursuit of truth. And while he's been involved in some of the most high-profile cases of recent times, it's often the less well known encounters that prove the most perplexing, intriguing and even bizarre. In or out of the public eye, his evidence has put killers behind bars, freed the innocent and turned open-and-shut cases on their heads. But a life in death, bearing witness to some of humanity's darkest corners, exacts a price and Shepherd doesn't flinch from counting the cost to him and his family. Unnatural Causes is an unputdownable record of an extraordinary life, a unique insight into a remarkable profession, and above all a powerful and reassuring testament to lives cut short. 'Heart-wrechingly honest' Sue Black, author of All That Remains

I found the opening of Unnatural Causes by Richard Shepherd good. Richard Shepherd, one of the country’s top forensic pathologists, is reflecting on his first big cases – the killing spree in Hungerford. However this is as much a personal biography and so the book moves to his early life and the interest in pathology. He then recounts aspect of his training.

Once he is actually working as a pathologist, the book considers a number of facets of his life. There are the cases he has worked on and some are very high profile indeed. He also puts in background information of the general subject and practice of forensic pathology. Much of this I found fascinating and certainly informative. He also makes mention of his personal life from time to time including his children’s interest in his career. His views on this “interest” leave him a little uneasy in some ways.

There were topics in this which I really did find interesting. He looks at the changes in attitude and approach to the difficult areas of Sudden Infant Death and of “shaken baby syndrome”. He considers the differences between a coroner’s court and criminal courts as well as his attitude to them both. Equally the changes in forensic pathology over time was an area I found well worth reading. His explanations of what processes occur in the body after death were also put simply and were informative.

He describes his speciality as “knife wounds” and spends time at home testing them on the family’s joints of meat and with the children. His career has certainly been colourful. Other than Hungerford he has also worked on the Marchioness disaster and has dealt with aspects of cases as varied as Shipman, 9/11 and the Lawrence case.

There are very powerful aspects to Unnatural Causes. However the author does state that he tries to avoid being emotionally involved in cases. Somehow I found that the narrative in this book also seem to lack the emotion that was transparent in other similar sorts of books I’ve read. It is definitely a readable book however it never really gripped me. 3.5/5 I think.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review