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


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

Author: Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Published: Scribner: Simon and Schuster August 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 07 to 08, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“Don’t jaywalk. Wear your seat belt when you drive. Better yet, stay out of the car, and get some exercise. Watch your weight. If you’re a smoker stop right now. If you aren’t, don’t start. Guns put holes in people. Drugs are bad. You know that yellow line on the subway platform? It’s there for a reason. Staying alive, as it turns out, is mostly common sense.”

This is the advice of Judy Melinek, the author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, gleaned from her experience as an assistant medical examiner in New York City. From 2001 to 2003 Melinek performed hundreds of autopsies on the victims of homicides, suicides, accidents, natural diseases, therapeutic complications, and undetermined causes, that crossed her table.

Melinek’s very first post mortem involved the death of a young man, a heroin addict diagnosed with sickle-cell trait who died in hospital, her second an elderly man who sustained severe burns in a house fire, the third a pregnant woman, the victim of a hit and run. In general, each chapter of Working Stiff groups together cases by manner of death, detailing Melinek’s examination of patients young and old, male and female, destitute and wealthy, and everything in between. The final chapters focus on the medical examiners office’s role in the wake of the Twin Towers collapse on September 11, and the crash of American Airlines flight 587.

The narrative is very readable, almost conversational in tone, and mostly free of the medical jargon one might expect. Melinek is at all times respectful but not humourless, sharing both professional perspective and personal observations. I do feel compelled to warn the unwary reader that this isn’t a book for the squeamish with its graphic record of gruesome injury and detailed descriptions of the forensic autopsy process.

What shines through is Melinek’s passion and commitment to her job as she works to investigate and determine the cause and manner of death, comfort the bereaved, provide assistance to the justice system and “speak for the dead”.

Informative, entertaining and engaging Working Stiff is a fascinating account of the work of a medical examiner, well told by Judy Melinek and her husband T.J. Mitchell.

* I gave the book an extra 1/2 star for Judy’s admission she wears “sensible shoes and a Medical Examiner windbreaker” during her rare visits to crime scenes – not six inch stiletto’s and Armani suits.


Working Stiff is available to purchase from

Simon and Schuster US I AmazonUS I BookDepository I Indiebound

via Booko

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Allen & Unwin
    Aug 11, 2014 @ 16:57:51

    Great review Shellaerae, we’re looking forward to publishing this in Australia & New Zealand later this year.



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