Book Review: Working Stiff, by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Originally published in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission. If you don't already receive it, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

Judy Melinek set out to be a surgeon, completing medical school and starting her residency before realizing it was not the career for her. In the summer of 2001, she changed tack and opted for a career in forensic pathology--what many might recognize from television crime series as a medical examiner. Working Stiff is an account of Melinek's years in training, complete with gory details, heartfelt emotions and plenty of ripped-from-the-headlines case studies.

Melinek, writing with T.J. Mitchell, packs every chapter with a careful balance of scientific fact and personal anecdote, covering topics such as what happens to a body's internal organs in a high-speed car crash with a static object (it's not pretty) and the difficulties of losing a loved one to suicide (Melinek's father killed himself). This mixture of nonfiction and narrative makes for compelling, informative reading as Melinek works through cases of homicide, accidental death, medical error and suicide--and becomes even more powerful as the authors recount the harrowing weeks and months following the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, which brought more bodies and death to Melinek's door than ever before.

Though the subject of Working Stiff can be overwhelming and gory, Melinek and Mitchell carefully avoid reveling in the horrors of a medical examiner's work. Instead, they highlight individual case studies as a way to illustrate nuances of the job that might not come through on Law & Order: the humanity of the subjects, the inconclusive results of an autopsy, the lasting impact that working with death can have on an individual's life.


A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review.
Working Stiff | Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell | Scribner | Hardcover | August 2014

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