HER expertise on the effects of death on the human body has taken her around the world – from witnessing the aftermath of genocide in Kosovo to mass destruction on the shores of the Indian Ocean following 2004’s devastating Boxing Day tsunami. 

But for Professor Dame Sue Black, an internationally respected expert in anatomy and forensic anthropology, the close study of mortal remains in her laboratory or in the field is not a matter of morbid fascination.

The Inverness-born scientist is renowned for her view of dying as a necessary and illuminating part of life, something which should be a cause for celebration rather than dread.

Now her latest work, All That Remains: A Life In Death, has been named this year’s Saltire Book of the Year. 

An exploration of the “many faces of death” which Dame Sue has encountered in a career spanning more than 30 years in forensic science, the memoir has also scooped the non-fiction book of the year accolade in the annual awards run by the Saltire Society.

It marks the second year in a row that the top prize has gone to a non-fiction title. Border: Journey to the Edge of Europe, by Kapka Kassabova, was named winner last year.

Professor Black’s career has included investigating the scenes of war crimes in Kosovo and identifying the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as well as work in the UK and Africa.

She was made a Dame in the 2016 Birthday Honours for her services to forensic anthropology.

Professor Black describes the winning book as being “as much about life as about death” and said that rather than being something to fear, death is something we should accept “as an integral and fundamentally necessary part of life’s process”.

Announcing their decision, the judges described Dame Sue’s book as “curiously uplifting and life-affirming” and said that “like all good memoirs”, it “reveals as much about the reader as the writer”.

Dame Sue, who is Pro-Vice Chancellor at Lancaster University, said: “I am truly delighted to have won the Saltire Book of the Year award this evening.

"To have done so in such illustrious literary company is a very special honour. Over the past 30 years and more, I feel very lucky to have been able to work in a job that I absolutely love. Working with teams who are second to none in their field of expertise has made that experience uniquely rewarding.” 

She added: “In writing this book, my goal was always to create a record of that experience but also to reflect on the important and positive lessons I have learned about life through the study of death in its many different forms.”

The winners of the six categories were unveiled at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. Each award winner was given a £2,000 prize, with the author of the Book of the Year receiving £6,000.

Leila Aboulela won the Fiction Book of the Year prize for Elsewhere Home, while Jay Whittaker’s Wristwatch was named Saltire Scottish Poetry Book of the Year.

The award for Research Book of the Year went to Tom Mole, a Professor of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, for What the Victorians Made Of Romanticism.

The History Book of the Year went to Les Wilson’s The Drowned and the Saved, an account of the sinking of US troopships Tuscania and Otranto off the coast of Islay in 1918, was named History Book of the Year.

And Sal, the debut novel by Fife-based writer Mick Kitson, won the 2018 Saltire First Book Award. It was described as a “heartwarming story about the end of childhood, the strength of a sister’s love and the power of nature to heal even the deepest wounds.”

The Publisher of the Year accolade went to Edinburgh-based Canongate Books, while Scottish author Louise Welsh won a special award marking the 30th anniversary of the First Book prize for her novel The Cutting Room.

Sarah Mason, the programme director for the Saltire Society, said: “From poetry to publishing, fiction to academic studies, extending the length and breadth of the country and far beyond, this year’s Saltire Literary Awards are a testament to the outstanding calibre of modern Scottish literature in all its varied forms.

“Every one of the awards was hotly contested, making the judges’ decisions particularly challenging. My congratulations to all of the winners.”