Seeking an alternative to the brutal 108-hour work weeks of her surgical residency, Dr Judy Melinek switched to forensic pathology and became an assistant medical examiner in New York City in 2001. The following two years saw her perform 262 autopsies on people who met their ends in many different ways: some heartbreaking, some horrendously violent, others bafflingly complex – and many in ways that were completely avoidable.
By no means a depressing trawl through the horrors of the morgue, Working Stiff is a rare and riveting insight into a role few of us would volunteer for – and even fewer could stomach.
In a lively conversational style, Melinek recalls some of her more memorable cases, including the crack addict who was stabbed, suffered smoke inhalation and fell to his death from the window of a burning apartment. Then there was the guy who was killed by a malfunctioning shredder, the man who was boiled alive inside a steam tunnel, and Dr Melinek’s valiant – but ultimately unsuccessful – efforts to convince a grieving mother that her son really did die of a heroin overdose and not ‘bad sushi’.
With black humour, disarming honesty and not a hint of condescension, Melinek reflects on the highs and lows of her work, revealing how particular cases contributed to her development as a scientist, and, more importantly, to her growth as a compassionate human being.
Allen & Unwin $29.99
Reviewed by Heather Lunney