Mistress of Death Review: ‘Working Stiff’ Goes Behind the Scene of Life as a Medical Examiner

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working-stiff-cover-199x300Judy Melinek did her training as Medical Examiner in New York City. With a husband and a child on the way, Melinek learned the ropes of studying causes of death on murders, accidents and suicides. In her book Working Stiff, she and her husband T.J. Mitchell compile some of her more interesting cases in an attempt to show readers what it’s really like working over an autopsy table. Melinek dispels the rumors of television, such as having someone identify a body inside the morgue instead of through pictures, and gives an accurate account of what it’s like to identify bodies during horrific events.

Melinek began working in New York City just two months before the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center September 11, 2001. As someone who can normally read a book like this for fun, I will admit I sobbed like a two year-old reading her accounts of identifying bodies after this crisis. Her discovery of hands still clad with engagement rings, the body of a firefighter with retirement forms in his pocket and the sheer number of body parts brought in even weeks after the incident are still haunting me. What’s worse, this incident is followed by the horrific crash of American Airlines Flight 587 and the fact that she had to turn over the bodies of children to another examiner because she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Meinek is one heck of a woman, and her strength is evident through the pages.  Though an examiner, she is first and foremost a mother. At one point in the book she describes having to testify at a trial of a mother who murdered her child. You can feel her frustration with the justice system and the anger of a mother who sees the outcome of abuse. She is blunt, honest and doesn’t pull punches throughout the entire book.

Working Stiff is most definitely not a book that most people would enjoy reading. Melinek goes into gory details, not for sensationalism, but for accuracy in her diagnosis. Those who work in the medical field or areas of science will likely devour this book will interest. Grandma most likely will not, and your boss will probably look at you with concern. However, Working Stiff is most certainly worth a read to clarify some of the false facts you have picked up from years of watching CSI or Law & Order.

Working Stiff is available from Simon and Schuster.

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