Publication: 20th September 2018 from Michael Joseph
Meet the forensic pathologist, Dr Richard Shepherd.
He solves the mysteries of unexplained or sudden death.
He’s a detective in his own right.
And he has one, ultimate and pressing question to answer:
How did this person die?
Unnatural Causes is a must read for anyone interested in crime, whether true crime or fiction. Dr. Richard Shepherd is a forensic pathologist and this book covers a whole host of fascinating and some well-known cases in which he was involved. It is a story told in layman’s terms about the working and domestic life of a pathologist and the inevitable toll that such a life can have on the personal and domestic agenda.
From the book it is easy to see how completely fascinated Richard Shepherd is about what the body in death can tell us, and the extent to which he threw himself into his work is an indication of how compelled he was by it.
Involved in some of the most high-profile cases of recent times, from Hungerford to the death of Princess Diana to the Twin Towers bombings, there are so many lessons to be learnt from these cases that it is easy to forget that these are autopsies and focus instead on what the dead have to say about their means of extinction.
The pressure to apportion blame when giving evidence is acute, especially when the crime appears to be a heinous one, and Shepherd gives us a flavour of what it is like to come under pressure from defence counsel when testifying, and the need to remember that testimony has to reflect the logical conclusion of an autopsy based on a balance of probabilities. For in the end, that evidence puts killers behind bars, frees the innocent and speaks for those who no longer have a voice.
Shepherd takes us through his own upbringing, his marriage and the births of his children, often showing a painful and heartfelt recognition of what he could have done better. Most of all he shows us what a fallible human being he is and how the profound toll of years of first hand testimony manifested itself upon him. From Sudden Infant Death Syndrome to the Marchioness disaster to Hungerford, this is a man who never lacks compassion yet who does not shy away from telling his truth.
He talks honestly about his “real mental struggle” believing that someone of Dr. Harold Shipman’s position – a trusted GP responsible for the deaths of up to 215 patients – could commit such horrific acts. “But the evidence all pointed that way” he says. “And it was the truth.”
I thought this was a terrific book from all kinds of perspectives. I learnt a huge amount, and I was left in no doubt that every life he attended was treated with the same degree of care and attention, irrespective of who they were or how they died.
In many ways, this book is a personal journey and you can feel his sadness when he talks about the demise of University pathology courses and the privatisation of the Forensic Pathology Service, a service he helped to found. The personal cost of all his work has been enormous and we all owe him and his colleagues a debt of gratitude for the work that they do.
Verdict: An intelligent, compassionate overview of an expert’s life in forensic pathology.
About Richard Shepherd
Dr Richard Shepherd is the leading forensic pathologist in the UK and has been involved in the investigation of many high profile deaths. He is a visiting professor at City University London, Honorary Consultant at The Royal Liverpool Hospital and a registered UK Home Office Forensic Pathologist.
With over 25 years of experience, he advised on the management of UK fatalities following 9/11, and was the forensic pathologist expert for the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. He is a member of the Ministerial Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody and also of the Restraint Accreditation Board, and has been a member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel.
He appears on Channel Five’s Autopsy, where he investigates the mystery and intrigue behind the deaths of high profile celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Michael Hutchence.
Unnatural Causes is his first book.