Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd | Book Review

**Trigger Warning** – death, true crime.

Synopsis

Top forensic pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd has performed over 23,000 autopsies. A detective in his own right, he must solve the mystery of sudden or unexplained deaths: how did this person die?

In the pursuit of the truth, he has tackled serial killers, natural disasters, ‘perfect murders’ and freak accidents. His evidence has put killers behind bars, freed the innocent and turned open-and-shut cases on their hands. Yet all this has come at huge personal cost.

In Unnatural Causes, he tells us the story not only of the bodies and cases that have haunted him the most, but also how to live a life steeped in death.

Review

Now, I’m aware a book like this probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s definitely mine! After I read Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt earlier this year, I became fascinated with medical themed non-fiction and this book just kept popping up on Amazon so I had to buy it. Like so many people, I’m a lover of true crime and the synopsis of this book appealed to me immensely.

Dr Richard Shepherd, a forensic pathologist, recounts the most interesting cases of his career, and their inevitable impact on him and his personal life. From the death of Diana, Princess of Wales to the horrendous Hungerford Massacre, Dr Shepherd was involved in some of the most infamous true crime and disaster cases in the world. Whether as an adviser, associate or lead forensic pathologist, he has so much insider knowledge. He also delves into the lesser known cases of his career, revealing all the stories the human body can tell, whilst both living and dead, on the way.

This book is the perfect read for true crime lovers and those with some morbid curiosity. It covers such well known cases that notoriously have people hooked, as well as lesser known cases that are just as interesting. It gives such an insight into the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of certain cases; where you would usually find out just a summarised report of a crime, this book outlines how those conclusions were found in the first place. One of the most interesting things was learning about how much you can find out about a crime from the body; Dr Shepherd’s ability to understand a crime from just the body, specifically those placed in his care at the hands of knife crime, is incredible.

It’s also great for those interested in medicine. I love Adam Kay’s book, and that gives an insight into medicine and caring for the living, Dr Shepherd’s book gives an insight into medicine and caring for the dead. I think so many people have a natural curiosity about this kind of thing, and this book is perfect for satisfying that. I learnt so much about the human body that I don’t think I would’ve learnt anywhere else. From the first page, it had me completely engrossed. I learnt about the process of death, the actions of a post mortem and all the different things that go on in our body that can indicate certain things. As well as autopsies after crime, he also discussed autopsies after ‘natural’ death, and that was just as fascinating. I have to say, it did take a few chapters for me to get used to the way in which he writes; it’s very matter of fact, and the first description of an post mortem was a lot for me at first, but I very quickly got used to it.

As well as the crime and medicine in this book, Dr Shepherd interspersed stories of his personal life, and how it was so deeply affected by his job. I think this added such depth to this book. It has to be said, Dr Shepherd is so very candid in his writing. He begins the book by discussing a panic attack he had whilst flying over Hungerford, years after his involvement in the aftermath of the infamous massacre, outlining how it took years for PTSD associated with the things he’d seen and experienced in his job to develop. I think it’s so important that he has highlighted how vital it is for people in lines of work such as his to get the care they need too. On top of this, he very honestly writes about how his job impacted his role as a father and a husband which only adds to how compelling this memoir is.

This book is a fascinating look into the life and career of a very interesting and well respected man. Dr Richard Shepherd has such captivating stories to tell, and so much knowledge to share. Ideal for lovers of true crime, and those interested in medicine and the human body, Dr Richard Shepherd’s memoir is a must-read. An honest page turner that imparts such valuable insight and wisdom.

“I would say that my knowledge of death has helped me appreciate the importance of life’s small pleasures and I bask in them…” – Dr Richard Shepherd, Unnatural Causes, page 409.

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