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on 28 April 2000
Professor Keith Simpson's evocative descriptions of how to determine the cause, time, place, method and sometimes motive of a corpse is mind blowing to say the least. The book describes his life as one of Britain's first criminal pathologists, frequently describing actual cases and how various conclusions were reached. At times throughout the book a strong stomach is necessary, but how do you describe terrible deeds without horrible facts? I just could not put the book down until I had finished it and then only started to re-read the whole thing again. Especially recommended for the "True Life Murder" brigade and anyone interested in forensic pathology.
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on 21 March 2006
This book is an amazing look over the work and experience of Keith Simpson. I can thoroughly recommend the book to anyone with even a passing interest in forensics! Whilst covering some gruesome topics, you will find a few light hearted entries here and there. I was lucky enough to attend some of his 'special' presentations at Guy's Hospital Medical School, where he took no little delight in shocking his audience with graphic photographs! Actually a real gentleman, he signed a copy of his book for me shortly after it was published.
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on 21 June 2010
I first read Forty Years of Murder back in 1987 and I have read and re-read it many times since. My original copy finally fell apart earlier this year and I bought a replacement, through Amazon of course, simply because it is such a good read. For a modern generation who think solving crime is just a matter of matching DNA this book would be an eye opener, for the more seasoned reader it shows how finding a killer was done the hard way. Sad, gruesome, fascinating but always entertaining Forty Years of Murder is from the top draw of true crime and well worth a read.
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on 11 February 2007
I enjoyed this book. I am very interested in pathology and Keith Simpson is one of the best. I would be very proud to say I had solved as many mysteries as Simpson has in his work. Very good book for all sorts of reasons. If you have a weak stomach, then this book is probably not a good idea
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on 30 April 2013
Professor Keith Simpson was the first Professor of Forensic Medicine at Guy's hospital in London, and began his career as a forensic pathologist in the 1930s and 40s. He worked on countless high-profile murder cases for the Home Office and Scotland Yard, involving criminals who have now become infamous, such as the Kray twins and Lord Lucan.

By far the most fascinating aspect of this book is the detail about the history of forensic medicine. Anybody who reads a lot of crime fiction or watches CSI would think Simpson was working in a completely different world. These days it is easy to think that a murderer can be convicted on the basis of a DNA match from a cheek swab that takes 5 seconds to do. But back in wartime Britain the technology to do that didn't exist and it was infinitely more difficult to prove someone guilty. Simpson pioneered techniques that we take for granted today, such as forensic odontology (identifying a criminal from bite marks left on the victim). He also had to demonstrate the quick intelligence to explain and justify his conclusions in court.

His writing style can come across as a bit smug and self-congratulatory, and that did grate at times, but to be fair his achievements are truly astounding. I was amazed to read that on one occasion he was able to prove murder had taken place through identifying a single gall stone in a pile of rubble (with only the naked eye) after the rest of the body had been dissolved in acid.

As well as learning about the roots of forensic pathology you get a real insight into how much society in general has changed over the years. A large number of the criminals mentioned in this book were eventually hanged, and it's also interesting to read about how many got off scot-free because of a lack of hard evidence in court. Without the concrete proof provided by DNA tests etc., a conviction could rest solely on the pathologist's clinical deductions and reasoning, and it was often possible for the defence to pick holes in his logic. I was also amused to see how much society's attitudes towards doctors have changed. Simpson discusses a case in which he proved the innocence of a doctor who had been accusing of killing his patient for monetary gain. He dismisses this as a possible motive:
"She had left an estate of £157,000, out of which the doctor received an old Rolls Royce and a chest containing silver valued at £275...hardly a rich legacy!"
I imagine concerns might certainly be raised these days if a GP inherited a car and a chest of silver from one of his patients! On the other hand, Simpson also talks about doctors who got into trouble after prescribing morphine and sedatives for palliation of their terminally ill patients. When you consider the fuss that has recently been kicked up in the press about palliative care and the use of the Liverpool Care Pathway, it seems that maybe not so much has changed after all.

So of course, this is a book chock-full of gruesome stories and grisly details, and if you are of a squeamish disposition then I'd steer well clear. But anybody who is a fan of crime fiction - particularly with a forensic/pathological theme, such as the novels of Tess Gerritsen or Patricia Cornwell - would do well to track down a copy as it is a really interesting read.
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on 16 February 2015
Why? Why put up with urgent phone calls at all hours of the day and night, the foul smells, exhumations, morgues, lust and violence? Simpson says it was for the excitement; no two days are ever the same in the life of a forensic pathologist.

Certainly, no two cases were ever the same; any reader with a strong stomach and an interest in criminology will find Simpson's well-written and entertaining account of his professional life interesting. His powers of deduction in determining the who, what, when, where and how were indeed awesome.

I found his account of Neville Heath's crimes and Dr. Bodkin Adams' acquittal (see my reviews of both cases) particularly interesting when seen from Simpson's perspective.

But I think a most fascinating aspect, common to most of the cases, was the painfully stupid way most suspects gave themselves away. At the height of the nationwide manhunt for him, why did Neville Heath walk around with a left-luggage ticket for the murder weapon, in his pocket? "Did I murder this woman for something she was supposed to have, and had not?" Asked the murderer of Mrs. Freeman Lee. How did he know she "had not" - because he had murdered her!

Despite the gruesome subject matter, Simpson's book is warmly written and at times darkly humourous. An example of this is the time he entrusted the care of his ageing mother to the matron he had given evidence against - at her trial for murdering an elderly care home patient! I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone seriously interested in this area of law.
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on 16 July 2008
read this book in 1980, reccommended to me by my boss (a professor in Histology and Pathology) who had picked up a copy when he was in London for a congress. I bought it and well... I was more than intrigued by it. I read it in less than 2 days, just couldn't put it away.
Forensic pathology is very popular these days. Back in 1980 it wasn't a subject displayed in dozens of tv-series.
Made it even more interesting, by the way. Makes the imagination run wild.
My copy is nowhere to be found alas, so I bought another one today. Can't wait for it to arrive. I'm sure I will dive into forensics matters again with a lot of GUSTO! (GRIN). A breathless absorbing read.
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on 13 August 2012
This is a very interesting book indeed, especially for anyone interested in the investigation of crime and pathology, written as it is by one of the leading practitioners of the twentieth century. Prof. Simpson writes in an interesting way which is intelligble to the non specialist, though by its very nature it is not a book for the squeamish. He writes from his own knowledge and has worked on many well known cases - Hanratty, Haigh, Christie, Lord Lucan and many others from the 1930s to the 1970s. Don't expect much about his non-working career, though. He includes some humour as well to leaven the otherwise pretty grim material which he covers.

However, I can't quite give this five stars. There are a number of factual errors - the Brabin investigation was not 15 years after the Scott-Henderson one, for instance. The Hampshire detective (Supt. Roberts I recall) praised in the Brenda Nash chapter did not have a 100% rate of success up to 1964 - no one was ever convicted for the Yvonne Laker murder of 1964 (oddly enough it was Simpson who carried out the pm on her but he forgets the case, which did not have a happy ending). Perhaps more glaringly he declares that Dr Bodkin Adams was innocent; it is now generally thought he was a serial killer second only to Shipman in his body count.

Simpson's likes and dislikes come across strongly - admiration for Dr Teare but not for Francis Camps.

There's also a couple of cases where Dr Simpson does not give details of the conclusions to some of his cases; there's one in the 1930s for instance, which I would have liked to have known more about.

Simpson declares at the end he has no sympathy for murdered prostitutes or drug addicts as they don't contribute to society but he does have sympathy for young mothers who die before their time. I wonder what he felt about women who fell into both camps (eg Kathleen Maloney and Rita Nelson).

However, these are fairly minor gripes and overall I enjoyed this greatly and found much of benefit and interest.
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VINE VOICEon 20 October 2002
There are countless "true life pathology" books which detail modern cases, mostly in the US.
This book, though shares a genre with the above, is worlds away from the hi-tech accounts mentioned above. Dr Keith Simpson tells of the crimes occuring during the 1930's onwards, when criminal pathology was a new concept in the UK.
It's an excellent read for anyone with a strong stomach!
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on 17 February 2011
My wife usually only reads fiction but, as her prefered subject is murder and crime solving through forensics, I thought I'd give this book a try. She was hooked and completed it in three evenings. It got the thumbs up partly because the Prof. was involved in the infancy of forensic science and partly due the famous cases that he describes.
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