Meet the forensic pathologist, Dr Richard Shepherd.
He solves the mysteries of unexplained or sudden death.
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.
There was no question about me reading Unnatural Causes. It popped up in the Kindle store as a suggestion and I didn’t even read the blurb before clicking ‘Buy’. Having grown up watching BBC’s Silent Witness, I’ve always found it fascinating the way in which a deceased person’s body can tell their story on their behalf. A pathologist can do so much more than uncover the story of a person’s demise; they can also uncover the story of that person’s life. I knew that this is what a pathologist did, but I didn’t know the ins and outs of their job, the clues that they look for when presented with a body. For example, I had no idea that the state of a person’s lungs is not just indicative of whether or not they smoked, but whether or not they lived in a polluted city or worked in a factory.
In Unnatural Causes, Dr Richard Shepherd gives readers a fascinating, albeit often grim, insight into the life of a forensic pathologist. I feel that shows like Silent Witness often romanticise forensic pathology. When my nan and I used to watch it – usually on a Sunday morning over breakfast – we’d always laugh at how the employees of the Lyell Centre would essentially take on an entire murder case by themselves and cleverly solve it with little assistance from the police. They’d take it upon themselves (they probably still do, I haven’t seen it in years) to pursue leads and track down suspects, deliberately putting themselves in dangerous situations, all in the name of justice. If Silent Witness is to be believed, forensic pathologists are akin to detectives, cracking seemingly uncrackable cases and getting the bad guys locked away.
Richard Shepherd might not have chased down suspects, but he’s by no means any less of a badass. In Unnatural Causes, he talks candidly about his career and the effect it had on him and his family. He sacrificed many things – most notably his mental wellbeing – to uncover the final moments of 20,000+ people. By doing this, he has provided an immeasurable amount of people with answers regarding their loved ones’ deaths, which, I’m sure in many cases, has brought a sense of relief at the very least. In cases involving foul play, his work has provided police with crucial evidence needed to bring perpetrators to justice. He has also performed autopsies on disaster victims and some of this work has led to vital health and safety changes in areas such as public transport. If this kind of work doesn’t make a person a badass, I don’t know what does.
Unnatural Causes is an unflinching and riveting account (with the odd dash of humour) of what has to be one of the most emotionally and mentally demanding jobs out there. I found it to be an engaging and fascinating read and can’t recommend it enough.