The best, not completely gory or nausea-inducing books about forensic investigation in murder cases

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated with crime and crime fiction. From my early obsession with the novels of Raymond Chandler to my embarrassingly late discovery of Agatha Christie. I directed epsiodes of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett for Masterpiece theatre, which was a dream come true. But it frustrates me when television dramas tread roughshod over forensic science, making absurd claims for what can be done, when the truth, as mundane as it often can be, is so much more fascinating. To this end I have just graduated with an Mlitt from the University of Dundee in Crime Fiction and Forensic Investigation. I hope this will lend my books an air of authenticity and dramatic drive.


I wrote...

The Monk

By Tim Sullivan,

Book cover of The Monk

What is my book about?

DS George Cross is socially awkward, difficult, and at times unintentionally rude. He is on the autistic spectrum but his condition is his gift. He has the highest conviction rate on the force. By far. This is because he will only follow the evidence. Doggedly. The body of a monk is found savagely beaten to death in a woodland near Bristol. Nothing is known about Brother Dominic's past. How can Cross unpick a crime when they don't know anything about the victim? And why would someone want to harm a monk?

Readers have really responded to the character of George Cross. They find him endearing and unique. For me character is at the centre of good fiction, whatever the genre.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of All That Remains: A Renowned Forensic Scientist on Death, Mortality, and Solving Crimes

Tim Sullivan Why did I love this book?

I was drawn to this book initially because Baroness Sue Black, formerly professor of Anatomy forensic anthropology at Dundee where I did an MLitt degree in crime fiction and forensic investigation.

It was an unexpected pleasure. Not at all macabre or gruesome – alright maybe in bits. But essentially, I loved this book because it’s such a personal reflection of life from someone whose daily business is to deal with the dead. I found her descriptions of how the body works and in the end the processes that happen when we die fascinating.

Humane, compassionate, and thought provoking. A great read.

By Sue Black,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked All That Remains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book of the Year, Saltire Literary Awards
A CrimeReads Best True Crime Book of the Month

For fans of Caitlin Doughty, Mary Roach, Kathy Reichs, and CSI shows, a renowned forensic scientist on death and mortality.

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,…


Book cover of Unnatural Causes

Tim Sullivan Why did I love this book?

Forensic pathologist Dr. Richard Shepherd has performed over 23,000 autopsies over his career. This has given him a unique perspective on life and death.

His description of his arrival at one of the first crime scenes he’d attended The Hungerford Massacre is worth the price of this book alone. It reads a like a haunting, eerie screenplay. Driving through a normal, ordinary suburban housing estate, coming across body after body. Haunting and respectful.

Shepherd also deals with the difficulty of not taking his work home with him after examining the results of the horrors people can inflict upon one another.

By Richard Shepherd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Unnatural Causes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An absolutely brilliant book. I really recommend it, I don't often say that but it's fascinating' Jeremy Vine, BBC Radio 2

'One of the most fascinating books I have read in a long time. Engrossing, a haunting page-turner. A book I could not put down' The Times
__________

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 an unputdownable record of an extraordinary life, a unique insight into…


Book cover of How to Solve a Murder: True Stories from a Life in Forensic Medicine

Tim Sullivan Why did I love this book?

This is a fantastically readable book about the world-famous Department of Forensic Medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London.

A little macabre at times, the most macabre on this list perhaps, it is always dosed with a good measure of humour. What is unique about the book is that it is told from the perspective of a husband and wife team working in the same department. You may enjoy CSI on TV but this is the real deal.

By Derek Tremain, Pauline Tremain,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Solve a Murder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As gripping as it is gruesome, How to Solve a Murder is a fascinating insight into the career of a forensic scientist. Includes a foreword from Dr Richard Shepherd, bestselling author of Unnatural Causes.

FRACTURED SKULLS. GAS MASKS. BRAIN BUCKETS. VATS OF ACID. PICKLED BODY PARTS.

Not the usual tools of trade, but for Chief Forensic Medical Scientist Derek and Forensic Secretary Pauline they were just part of a normal day in the office inside the world-famous Department of Forensic Medicine at Guy's Hospital in London.

Derek has played a pivotal role in investigating some of the UK's most high-profile…


Book cover of When the Dogs Don't Bark: A Forensic Scientist's Search for the Truth

Tim Sullivan Why did I love this book?

What is compelling about this book is that the author has worked on some of the most famous cases in the UK. Some like Stephen Lawrence, Rachel Nickell, and Damilola Taylor are still very much in the public consciousness.

She details the difficulties in the case and how she worked methodically on them. The Guardian said, "Her ability to reconstruct violent events in her mind and to see how forensic science can be used to reveal a suspect would leave even Sherlock Holmes in awe."

By Angela Gallop,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When the Dogs Don't Bark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*As seen on ITV's The Pembrokeshire Murders*

'Fascinating. A book that will be essential reading for every aspiring crime writer' Guardian

'Offers a chilling glimpse into her life's work. Fascinating stuff.' Sunday Times

'Compelling' Daily Mirrror

__________

By the time I arrived at the wood yard in Huddersfield on a bitterly cold night in February 1978, the body of the 18-year-old victim had already been taken to the mortuary.
__________

Never before has criminal justice rested so heavily on scientific evidence. With ever-more sophisticated and powerful techniques at their disposal, forensic scientists have an unprecedented ability to help solve even…


Book cover of Murder Most Florid: Inside the Mind of a Forensic Botanist

Tim Sullivan Why did I love this book?

On a slightly lighter note, although still involved in the solving of murder, this book is written by a forensic botanist.

It’s about how dirt, seeds, and grasses can be utilised in solving crime. An unusual and unique career and all the more fascinating because of it. He talks about his frustration with dealing with some police officers who don’t appreciate how important this science can be.

It’s a brilliant demonstration of how simple, old botanical observations are still relevant and can be crucial in solving a murder in an age of DNA and digital analysis. All of this explained in language that we can all understand.

By Mark A. Spencer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Murder Most Florid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dr Mark Spencer is a forensic botanist - in other words, he helps police with cases where plants can unlock clues to solve crimes, from murder and rape to arson and burglary.

Murder Most Florid is an enthralling, first-person account that follows Mark's unconventional and unique career, one that takes him to woodlands, wasteland and roadsides, as well as police labs, to examine the botanical evidence of serious crimes. From unearthing a decomposing victim from brambles to dissecting the vegetation of a shallow grave, Mark's botanical knowledge can be crucial to securing a conviction.

More widely, this gripping book challenges…


You might also like...

Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

Book cover of Ferry to Cooperation Island

Carol Newman Cronin Author Of Ferry to Cooperation Island

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Sailor Olympian Editor New Englander Rum drinker

Carol's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

James Malloy is a ferry captain--or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a "girl" named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island’s daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a plan for a private golf course on wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep historic trees and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have to learn to cooperate with other islanders--including Captain Courtney, who might just morph from irritant to irresistible once James learns a secret that's been kept from him for years.

Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

What is this book about?

Loner James Malloy is a ferry captain-or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a girl named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island's daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a private golf course staked out across wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, a Narragansett Indian, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep rocky bluffs, historic trees, and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in criminal investigations, forensic science, and presidential biography?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about criminal investigations, forensic science, and presidential biography.

Criminal Investigations Explore 450 books about criminal investigations
Forensic Science Explore 35 books about forensic science
Presidential Biography Explore 19 books about presidential biography