Book review: Blood has a Voice

Blood has a Voice – Stories from the autopsy table


Hestelle van Staden

Review: Karen Watkins

Crime enthusiasts are in for a treat with this real-life glimpse behind the scenes into the world of forensic pathology.

Hestelle van Staden jumps in from the first page with the story of a hanging at a police station located in a dodgy area of Johannesburg.

She then goes on a journey from her childhood dream to becoming a leading South African forensic pathologist.

Her commitment is to be a voice for the dead and to ensure that killers do not escape justice.

Using unfiltered gripping descriptions, she illustrates her unglamorous job by describing the day-to-day challenges of dissecting bodies in a noisy, smelly autopsy room.

Nothing seems to make her cringe, except for coming across the odd maggots.

Her daily life means working in full protective clothing with the tools of her trade to teamwork with police, prosecutors and the families who want to know why or how their loved one died.

She has conducted over 7 000 autopsies and her court evidence has led to the conviction of numerous criminals.

Van Staden walks us through nine of her most captivating cases, varying from an ordinary deliveryman to South African reggae musician, Lucky Dube.

From the investigation of 30-year-old Maureen Mashiyane who died tragically after childbirth to the evil Rhodes Park double murders and double rapes of 2015.

She also reveals the grim realities of unnatural deaths in South Africa by shedding light on legal processes. The Inquest Act 1959 provides no options: the law determines that an autopsy will take place if unnatural death is suspected. The police are supposed to attend autopsies but attendance is at minuscule levels, a serious flaw in the judicial process.

The author’s storytelling is passionate despite occasional repetition. Her meticulous approach to her work is evident, though at times, the technical language may pose a challenge for the general reader.

Overall, the book is a rare and authentic exploration of forensic science in South Africa. It also ties in to the DStv show Outopsie.