Lauren Moyneux curls up with a good book to review some of the latest best sellers
Dr Richard Shepherd
This isn’t a book I would normally pick up from the bookshop shelf, but after listening to Dr Shepherd’s fascinating story on the radio one afternoon, I rushed out to buy his latest release straight away.
Unnatural Causes charts the life of Dr Shepherd, one of Britain’s top forensic pathologists. It’s a life unlike any other I have known or read about, one that has been touched by death so drastically and with such regularity. The sheer unfamiliarity of such an experience is enough to draw you in from the first page.
In this fascinating autobiography, Dr Shepherd outlines the key moments of his life, most of which revolve around death. Now an expert in the field, he has carried out over 23,000 post-mortem examinations, providing a complex analysis of each body to determine the cause of death in each case. He has been called out to sights of natural disasters, freak accidents and mass murders, where the body count alone is shocking enough. But each case presents its own self-contained detective story, and it has been his job for so many years to determine the cause of death, along with all of the implications that surround it.
Unnatural Causes pays respects to every person who has found themselves lying on his table by sharing the secrets that they can no longer share themselves – of how their life came to an end. In many cases his findings have put criminals behind bars and ensured that justice is brought upon the guilty.
Unnatural Causes provides a fascinating outline of the physical processes of death in various circumstances and an incredible insight into a remarkable profession. Dr Shepherd equally does not shy away from addressing the emotional weight that is absorbed from every experience with death, something which he admits he has only in later life come to terms with.
Ultimately, this book holds within its pages the story of a life told with honesty, and this is partly why it is such a pleasure to read. Honesty lies within the post-mortem reports of particularly complex cases, and Dr Shepherd pays his respects to the dead who told their story through his tools, allowing him to stand by his statements even when they were doubted or controversial. There is honesty in the moments he admits, with hindsight, that things could have been handled differently, in both his professional and his personal life. But the most overwhelming moments of honesty come when Dr Shepherd discusses life with his family, and the effects his job has had over the years.
Evoking fascination and sentiment, there is something incredible about this journey of a life lived with death.
Considering the content, strangely this isn’t a book to give you nightmares. Despite providing incredible detail and insight into some of the most infamous murder and disaster cases in the UK, along with some fascinating and detailed accounts of post-mortem analysis for many individual cases, Unnatural Causes, though it may fulfil a certain sense of morbid curiosity, is unputdownable for a whole range of reasons.