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Beyond the Tape -The Life and Many Deaths of a State Pathologist by Dr Marie Cassidy

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Memoir

By Swirl and Thread

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Beyond the Tape: The Life and Many Deaths of a State Pathologist by Dr Marie Cassidy is published with Hachette Ireland and is described as ‘a unique behind-the-scenes journey into the mysteries of unexplained and sudden death – by turns poignant, stark and deeply compelling’. I recently watched Dr. Marie Cassidy interviewed on The Late Late Show (an Irish chat show) and was completely taken aback by the gravitas, the poise and the humour of this Glaswegian doctor that we had all become familiar with on our TV screens up to very recently, but in a very different guise. The news camera zoomed in on Dr Cassidy, more oft-times dressed in protective white gear, entering crime scenes that would invoke nightmares in most of us. Having now written her memoir, Dr Marie Cassidy takes the reader on quite a detailed journey, with the most fascinating insights into her professional career as a pathologist, working in some very horrifying environments.

“Death is not a headline or an obituary notice, it is something that will happen to us all. I have witnessed death in all its guises. This book is an attempt to enable you to see with my eyes, to walk carefully in my footprints beyond the police tape.”
– Dr Cassidy via The Bookseller

Beyond the Tape is not a book for the squeamish and most definitely not a book to be read while eating. There are disturbing scenes of quite a graphic nature so be prepared. It is, however, a compelling and very unique opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes ‘exposé’ of pathology and all it’s workings from the perspective of this true power-house of a woman.

Dr Cassidy brings the reader back to her days in Glasgow, recounting her entry into pathology and her later encounter with Professor John Harbison, who was the Irish State Pathologist to precede her. Not a career choice for many but one that Dr. Cassidy excelled in for many reasons. Her humanity and empathy, with a focus on always discovering the truth, made her a powerful force to be reckoned with. For many of us, the idea of working in this field repulses but for Dr. Cassidy, her sleepless nights were not filled with ‘mangled bodies and zombies attacking me’ but her continued search for the truth.

“When I lose sleep it’s because I’m processing my postmortem findings and trying to make sense of them. I feel a tremendous responsibility to get things right, not only for the deceased person but also for their family. The worst diagnosis I can give to a family is that the cause of death is ‘undetermined’”
– Dr Marie Cassidy

Throughout her career in pathology, Dr Cassidy witnessed seismic shifts in the way forensics was developing. New technologies heralded in techniques and equipment that allowed for greater accuracy and ultimately better results. She refers to how, in 1985, when she became a forensic pathologist, DNA was not used to make identification, whereas today it is such a vital and important component to achieving a greater level of accuracy.

I was particularly fascinated with Dr Cassidy’s involvement with the UN and the uncovering of mass graves in war-torn countries. She became part of a team involved in assisting with the identification of the dead. A mammoth task with ‘the numbers so overwhelming that we thought we would never be able to identify all the remains recovered’. Dr Cassidy’s portrayal of the scenes she witnessed are incredibly disconcerting, surrounded by a very unpredictable political climate and rudimentary facilities.

“Nothing could have prepared us for the work we faced. Walking toward the dilapidated building, the stench from the mortuary was overpowering and, due to the lack of washing facilities, we smelt of rotting corpses for the whole time we were there. Despite the working conditions and an overwhelming sadness due to what we witnessed, we had a common cause: to identify the deceased in the hope of bringing justice to them and to their families. That was what it was about for me. Giving the body back to the family”
– Dr Marie Cassidy

Dr Cassidy recounts many tragedies from both her time in Glasgow and in Ireland. I was familiar with many of the Irish cases, reminded of the faces we saw, of both victims and perpetrators, on our screens and newspapers at the time. There is one case that she recalls, in 1992, near Glasgow where the body of a young woman, a student, was discovered. One particular paragraph, where Dr Cassidy writes about the postmortem, carries great emotion evoking a huge sense of loss.

“This was not normal. We were gathered around her, as if trying to keep her safe. It was too late for that.”

Beyond the Tape is an impressive book. It is a memoir of quite an extraordinary person. Every chapter brings something new and, although unsettling, a compulsion to keep reading. Dr Marie Cassidy is a passionate individual, one who strongly believes in the black and white of right and wrong, with the caveat that one realises the limits of one’s expertise. Stick to what you know using the necessary facts to support your claims but be willing to accept that there will be times when you will get it wrong. Words we should all adhere to.

Beyond the Tape in many ways is quite an unusual read, almost like The Dummies Guide to Pathology. It is a book that I have no doubt many crime writers will closely analyse and digest due to the very informative nature of its contents.

Unique in every way, Beyond the Tape is a very insightful and important book, one that disturbs and compels in equal measure. Not for the faint of heart, it is a fascinating and riveting look at the life of a pathologist who very much left her mark on society, Dr Marie Cassidy.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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