Unnatural Causes by Richard Shepherd [review]

Unnatural Causes

Title: Unnatural Causes
Author: Richard Shepherd
Publisher: Michael Joseph UK


The dead do not hide the truth and they never lie. Through me the dead can speak … 

As the country’s top forensic pathologist, Dr Richard Shepherd has spent a lifetime uncovering the secrets of the dead.

When death is sudden or unexplained, it falls to Shepherd to establish the cause. Each post-mortem is a detective story in its own right – and Shepherd has performed over 23,000 of them. Through his skill, dedication and insight, Dr Shepherd solves the puzzle to answer our most pressing question: how did this person die?

From serial killer to natural disaster, ‘perfect murder’ to freak accident, Shepherd takes nothing for granted in pursuit of truth. And while he’s been involved in some of the most high-profile cases of recent times, it’s often the less well known encounters that prove the most perplexing, intriguing and even bizarre. In or out of the public eye, his evidence has put killers behind bars, freed the innocent and turned open-and-shut cases on their heads.

But a life in death, bearing witness to some of humanity’s darkest corners, exacts a price and Shepherd doesn’t flinch from counting the cost to him and his family.

Unnatural Causes is an unputdownable record of an extraordinary life, a unique insight into a remarkable profession, and above all a powerful and reassuring testament to lives cut short.

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[My Review]

This is such an interesting book; it’s right up my street as it sort of combines elements of ‘true crime’ with medicine and gives me, as the reader, an insight into how forensic pathology works – these combined together makes a truly intriguing read!

Richard Shepherd writes in quite a factual way, so if you’re a fan of dramatic retellings then you’re probably better looking elsewhere. I am glad of this; it lends the proper respect and care to the work – after all, most of the content is about people who have died, and this book highlights the stress and pressures of being a forensic pathologist. It also opened my eyes to the political implications of some cases, without being too dry or complicated. At times I felt a bit queasy reading about the autopsies but that’s no surprise as I’m not great with gory details!

I absolutely loved that the book covers so many key historical moments, some of which I remembered and some I’d heard about – these included: Princess Diana’s death in 1997 and the absolute furore over the incident; 9/11; the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and many more. It was so interesting to read about well-known cases from a different point of view – namely from that of the pathologist working the case. The many things they have to consider, and the wide-range of medical knowledge which is required to do their job, is something I found very interesting to read about.

I think I’d prefer less information about the author’s personal and family life – although this does of course feed into elements of his career and the pressure of trying to juggle family life with big cases – but the interesting case details more than made up for this in my opinion!

[Rating: 4/5]

Many thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.

[About the Author]

Richard Shepherd was born in West London but grew up in Watford. At the local grammar school he was introduced to a medical textbook smuggled into the classroom by a friend which opened his eyes to the world of crime and murder, setting him on a lifelong quest to understand death in its many forms. He trained as a doctor at St George’s Hospital medical school at Hyde Park Corner, qualifying in 1977 and then completed his postgraduate training as a forensic pathologist in 1987. He immediately joined what was then the elite forensic department at Guy’s Hospital. He has been involved nationally and internationally in the forensic investigation of thousands of deaths from unnatural causes, from headline-making murders to mass natural disasters, and many sudden and unexplained deaths that his investigations showed were from natural causes or due to accidents. His skills and expertise still remain in demand around the world.



  1. Great review!! I have this, and am looking forward to reading it. I was going to do forensic anthropology, but medical issues shut that down. I still have the fascination though!

    (Have you ever read Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William Bass, or any of John Douglas or Robert Ressler’s forensic psychology)

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