Title: All That Remains
Author: Sue Black
Dame Sue Black is an internationally renowned forensic anthropologist and human anatomist. She has lived her life eye to eye with the Grim Reaper, and she writes vividly about it in this book, which is part primer on the basics of identifying human remains, part frank memoir of a woman whose first paying job as a schoolgirl was to apprentice in a butcher shop, and part no-nonsense but deeply humane introduction to the reality of death in our lives. It is a treat for CSI junkies, murder mystery and thriller readers, and anyone seeking a clear-eyed guide to a subject that touches us all.
Cutting through hype, romanticism, and clichÃ©, she recounts her first dissection; her own first acquaintance with a loved one’s death; the mortal remains in her lab and at burial sites as well as scenes of violence, murder, and criminal dismemberment; and about investigating mass fatalities due to war, accident, or natural disaster, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. She uses key cases to reveal how forensic science has developed and what her work has taught her about human nature.
All That Remains is an interesting, frank look at death, how this natural but much-feared process is treated by society, and her work as a forensic anthropologist spanning 30 years. I have to say, I never properly thought about the difference between forensic pathologists and forensic anthropologists until I read this this book.
All The Remains is intense and thought-provoking, and though some parts made me feel a little sad at times, and even uncomfortable, I really enjoyed it. Often I find that listening to something on audiobook struggles to keep my attention properly, but – perhaps because it was the author Sue Black herself reading this novel – I found this captivating. There were, however, some parts that I found less interesting – namely the parts near the beginning which focussed more on family matters and her personal history. As harsh as it may sound, the reason I picked up this book (/audiobook) was to learn more about the process of forensic anthropology itself, and I was far more intrigued by the chapters on how the amazing skills of her and her team were used to help with some high-scale disasters and incidents all over the world, as well as how it’s integrated into the less dramatic but more ‘everyday’ process of dealing with dead bodies.
I have to say, I don’t tend to read a lot of non-fiction normally so it has to really grab me (and, as I said especially when listened to on audiobook!) so the fact I listened to this to the end is a testament to how interesting it is. I loved the passages on how people try to ‘get rid’ of a body, and how a body breaks down after a certain amount of time. I’ve always found information like this very interesting, and as I listened to this audiobook I couldn’t help thinking ‘I’d love to do this’… conveniently forgetting that I have zero scientific skill and am not a fan of gore.
I would have liked even more information about the cases she’s worked on and the amazing ways forensic anthropology can have such an impact in today’s world – I certainly found that I enjoyed this book more and more as it went on, not wanting it to end!