Page Turner: Past Mortems

Apparently, working in a mortuary is not a dead-end job.

I don’t know why but recently I have been reading a lot of books about death. By no means is this a bad thing, in fact, I find it rather comforting learning more about what happens to us after we pass on. At the start of this month, I finished my latest book on the topic, Past Mortems.

Past Mortems: Life and Death Behind Mortuary Doors by Carla Valentine is a memoir of her ten years of training and working as an Anatomical Pathology Technologist.

61CjkoFcneLNot only does she open up about, well opening up the dead but her personal life at the time and what lead her to the life she lives now.

She also discusses mortuary practices of old and how it works in the modern UK. While I am a part of the Death Postive movement, before reading I didn’t know a lot about how we treat our dead here. However, this is not a textbook as she does include her witty sense of humour.

Valentine does not shy away from the gory details but does not dramatise them. Although if you are rather squeamish, this is not the book for you. She also does not shy away from talking about tragedy, whether it’s about how the person ended up on the slab in front of her, personal tragedy or working as part of ‘Operation Theseus’ after the 7/7 bomb attack in London where she tried to help identify the victims killed in the blast.

For a book primarily about the dead, Past Mortems is a lively read, that’s thanks to her spirited writing and like I mentioned earlier, her sense of humour. I even chuckled out loud a few times while reading.

Does anyone like examinations? Whether it’s a dental exam, a breast exam or an academic exam, the word usually has a negative connotation. But we can’t get away from examinations: we need them for everything – even, it seems, when we’re dead.

Carla Valentine


Speaking of which, Reading this is like listening to someone giving a passionate lecture on a subject near and dear to their heart, just as entertaining as it is interesting.

After reading Past Mortems my perception of mortuaries has shifted a bit. I will admit I thought they were dark, depressing places where everyone is extremely serious all the time but now I know better.

I’m sure the topic might put some people off and while understandable, it’s a shame since this is a fantastic read.

If you have any interest in death, working with the dead or are looking for a unique read, Past Mortems: Life and Death Behind Mortuary Doors is the book for you.

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