Writing a memoir of your career, can be a bit hit and miss. There’s a fine line between fascinating account of your working life and a dry, dull or egotistical work, and I’ve read more of the latter types than the former.

Luckily, this week’s review is of a book that is one of the former. Dr Richard Shepherd here manages to weave always interesting anecdotes and accounts of his work as a forensic pathologist with the impact his career has had on his personal life. Rather than being full of ego, his story is more apologetic, recognising his flaws and how his preoccupation with work has negatively impacted on his (now ex) wife and children.

He also recognises the impact of his own childhood on how he deals with trauma and emotion, and this is partly why the book is so satisfying: he has a self-awareness rare among those who have become hugely successful in their field, and is willing to talk about his failures as well as successes. He comes across as a complex but likeable man, who has worked in a difficult and changing field.

Shepherd’s account of his career takes in both (in)famous cases and ones that have been largely forgotten by press and public, if indeed they were ever known. Those who remember the 1992 murder of young mother Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common, the Marchioness disaster of 1989, and the racially-motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 will find Sheppard’s involvement of interest; he was also involved with postmortems on the remains of British people who died as a result of 9/11 and the homegrown 7/7 terrorist attacks.

Yet the most powerful parts of the book relate to the lesser known cases, and Shepherd puts these into context, showing the changes that have taken place during his career in terms of both methods of killing and the evidence for a growing obesity epidemic amongst the bodies he deals with. His account makes clear the senseless nature of murders, and the difficulties in ascertaining the cause of death – not to mention the stress of giving evidence about your findings in a sometimes combative courtroom.

Unsurprisingly, as a result of his work, Shepherd was relatively recently diagnosed with PTSD, and he offers an honest account not only of how this has affected him, but also its ongoing nature, despite the respite that counselling has been able to offer. This honesty is rare, but welcome, enabling the reader to see the emotional cost of violent death not only on the victims’ relatives and friends, but also on the professionals tasked with working out what happened.

Reacties op: Partly an autobiography, but also a love letter to pathology. It's dignified and graceful and painfully honest about the human and emotional cost of so much time with the dead. Insightful, moving and mesmerising -

Unnatural Causes - Dr Richard Shepherd
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