Review: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner
Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Be careful what you ask for. A few weeks ago I reviewed Andrew Meredith’s THE REMOVERS. In it, I asked for “more dead bodies.” I even taunted them in my blog post with GIF images of bloody cadavers and an exploding whale. Well, Scribner listened and delivered.

Let’s set this up a bit more: on one side, a medically trained examiner who uses all the precise and exact terms of the body’s innards; combined with (married to) Harvard English major—you know, to make sure the wording is…just right. Yeah. You see where this is going? Then, take this dynamic duo to New York City. You know those one-in-a-million stories? Well, as the authors cleverly point out, New York City has 8 million people.

This husband and wife duo corresponded and plotted this book a lot through e-mail. Some of that behind the scene’s stuff has been captured for our extended-gory interest. The husband’s blog has a great sample of one such exchange (grocery shopping & dead bodies…whatever works):

WARNING! Thought I’d put this in all caps to get your attention. Just to be sure: WARNING! If you have any medical history whatsoever, be cautious about reading this book. If you drink, eat, or walk on the sidewalk, or breath, be cautious about reading this book. You think deaths are quick and painless? You might not want to read this book. (But really, if you are like me, I know you’ll still want to—sicko!)

If you google my name and the words “cardiac arrest”, you’ll see why I was a bit squeamish when the authors talk about a heart busting through one of the body’s cavity walls. I have friends with epilepsy, and the authors kindly point out how it kills. You like to drink? Yeah, Mr. Budweiser and his friends are big time killers. I was surprised about the lack of fatal car accidents in The Big Apple, but there’s still plenty of others ways to get squashed. You’ll see.

Here’s the funny thing: amidst talking of death, decay, rot, and stench, you’ll find moments of tenderness and life appreciation. Between Dr. Judy Melinek talking to the deceased’s families, or her post-work conversations with husband T.J. Mitchell, there is plenty to be sentimental about. And then there’s 9/11. Beside the serious issues, you’ll also find a LOT of humor. I’m still laughing about how many folks walk around us with piercings hidden in their knickers: you’d be surprised.

Yes, I asked for more dead bodies. Instead of 10, I got over 200. I was scared, mortified, and shocked—and loved every minute of it. I could not put this book down. It was informative, very well written, and oddly satisfying. If you have any interest in this topic (and we know you do) then this will be an excellent book to pursue. (Just don’t read it before bedtime or meals…bad idea.)

Thanks Scribner for providing this electronically for review. You answered the call and I had a hell of a time.

You can soon find this book’s preview and other reviews on Amazon: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Or, you can find this on independent Powell’s:


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