Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Book Review: 'Working Stiff' by Judy Melinek

Dr. Judy Melinek trained for two years as a forensic pathologist in the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. In her book, "Working Stiff," written with her husband, T. J. Mitchell, Melinek looks back at some of the most memorable cases that she handled under the supervision of Dr. Charles Hirsch. Much to Melinek's horror, she and her fellow pathologists were on the scene on 9/11, when the Twin Towers fell. She and her colleagues spent grueling hours going through charred body parts, using a meticulous indexing system to increase the possibility of identifying remains.

The two hundred and sixty-two bodies that Dr. Melinek autopsied during her rotation were victims of homicide, suicide, injuries, diseases, drug overdoses, medical malpractice, terrorism, and alas, acts of carelessness and stupidity. The writing style in "Working Stiff" is breezy, conversational, and humorous, and Melinek is refreshingly forthright about her thoughts and feelings. Readers should be forewarned, however. Melinek conveys grisly information about the effects of decomposition (maggots, escaping gases, and foul odors are an integral part of the morgue's ambiance), and some may recoil at the graphic descriptions of the many terrible ways in which people's lives come to an end.

There are also enlightening passages about the additional responsibilities that pathologists must shoulder. They are expected to communicate sensitively with relatives of the deceased; work collaboratively with investigators and prosecutors; and, when necessary, testify effectively in court. Sometimes, all that law enforcement officials have to work with are the remains, the testimony of witnesses (who may not always be reliable), the physical evidence at the scene, and a general idea of the circumstances surrounding a particular death. Most of the time, but not always, pathologists and detectives can fill in the blanks and bring closure to the victims' families. Melnek loves her work because it is intense and absorbing, an intellectual challenge, and most important of all, it gives her the chance to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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