Mortem: real life forensic science

Mortem2Something a little different, this. Not the written word nor filmed entertainment, but instead a series of spoken-word podcasts which combine the very best of fictional crime drama and real-life forensic procedures. They’re ideal for anyone who’s struggling to concentrate on a full-length thriller or an intricately plotted mystery. Plus you can listen to these while baking bread, painting the bathroom or weeding the garden…

Each episode lasts about half an hour, and a whole story arc is completed in three segments. So you only need to concentrate for 25 minutes at a time – or it takes a little under 90 minutes to hear how a real crime is solved, from the discovery of the body to charging the guilty party (if there is one!). Mortem is perfect for people who normally read Kathy Reichs, Tess Geritsen or Patricia Cornwell — or anyone who enjoys an episode of CSI.

The storylines are fictional but the science and the experts who explain it are all real. The host is Carla Valentine, mortuary technician, and her presentation is both engaging and informative but she doesn’t shy away from the sticky side of her vocation. The series certainly doesn’t mince words about the details of death and human anatomy so it’s not recommended for the squeamish. Working alongside the pathologist, Carla examines how each body ended up on her slab – and then goes out into the field to examine the physical evidence at every stage of each investigation.


The first storyline of three episodes follows a case of death by arson. Initially it seems that the victim might’ve committed suicide – he was depressed, according to witnesses – and apparently died alone. Painstaking research follows into burn patterns and the effects of fire on different fibres, accelerants, pollen and debris; even bringing in a fire investigation dog to track down vital evidence.

Mortem hits just the right balance between factual presentation and intriguing drama. Each case is sensitively presented – not sensationalised – and the three very different mysteries reveal key aspects of the science of 21st century investigation. There’s even room for mortician humour: why do blood pattern specialists appreciate Christmas? Because there’s no L (noel) in ‘spatter’…

An excellent podcast: professionally produced and presented. Many authors who write police procedurals could do themselves a favour and listen to this series – it would certainly help them get the details right in future books!

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Mortem is available from BBC Sounds

Try The Stoner Stories for more short, sharp action…fb-stonerstoriesad
…in this collection of gritty, witty and hardboiled quick thrillers


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