Review: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

working stiffPublished by Scribner
Released August 12, 2014
272 pages
Where I got it: E-galley received from publisher via NetGalley

Description (from Goodreads):

The fearless memoir of a young forensic pathologist’s rookie season as a NYC medical examiner, and the cases, hair-raising and heartbreaking and impossibly complex, that shaped her as both a physician and a mother.

Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. With her husband T.J. and their toddler Daniel holding down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation, performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines flight 587.

Lively, action-packed, and loaded with mordant wit, Working Stiff offers a firsthand account of daily life in one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies, and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on shows like CSI and Law and Order to reveal the secret story of the real morgue.

I think one of the things that would keep me from ever being a doctor is the thought of dissecting a corpse. I just can’t fathom being that close to a dead body, let alone cutting it open. I would keep expecting it to lurch up and go for my brains. Keeping in line with my habit of reading about the exact thing I am afraid of, I couldn’t put Working Stiff down.

Dr. Melinek cuts open dead bodies for a living. Each day, she makes the Y-shaped incision into the torso, opens up the head when she needs to, breaks ribs, rummages around, and figures out why people die. Even better, she seems to genuinely enjoy her job. Dead bodies are fascinating, and she recounts the various ways that you might kick the bucket. Sometimes the body comes to her in a bucket, or in a mail container. Sometimes she has to go to the scene where the person is decomposing.

I couldn’t believe some of the amazing things the body can do when it dies. For example, one body was a suicide on the subway. There was no blood in the body or on the scene because it was completely absorbed into the marrow. Melinek also describes her time on the front line as a medical examiner during 9-11. It was a very striking chapter and really showed what first responders went through.

This was exactly the kind of book I like to read. The writing was engaging, the topic fascinating, and it didn’t pander or get cute with the subject matter. If you have an interest in death, forensics, true crime, or taboo topics, you’ll want to pre-order this one.

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6 Responses to Review: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

  1. Melinda says:

    Thanks Audrey, will be adding this to my TBR. Sounds super interesting, my kinda book.

  2. Oh wow.. I would totally read this.

  3. Ooo… This looks so interesting! I’ve been slacking on my non-fiction reading lately. This looks wonderful.

    If you’re not grossed out by death, have you read Stiff by Mary Roach? It seems like something you would be interested in. :)

    • Audrey Audrey says:

      I love Stiff! Such a great book. I just picked up an ARC of Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and am really excited to read that one now.

  4. Amy says:

    It sounds very interesting and intriguing! It reminds me Robin Cook stories, which I like a lot!
    Thanks for sharing,

    Books that I like the most

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