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

Get Permission


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

Authors: Judy Melinek, MD,
and T.J. Mitchell

Publisher: Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc

Publication Date: August 2014

Price: $25.00; hardcover, 272 pages


Just as the sun came up over a Manhattan construction site, a group of hard hats were sitting on the sidewalk sipping coffee before their morning shift started. A noise punctuated the hum of the city streets. A metallic creak turned into a menacing groan, scattering the construction workers as the derrick of a 383-foot-tall crane fell from the roof and crashed down on James Friarson’s head, a worker who ran the wrong way. “The steel boom had punched a foot-deep hole in the sidewalk when it came down on Mr. Friarson. A hard hat was still there, lying on its side in a pool of blood and brain, coffee and doughnuts,” writes Judy ­Melinek, MD, and T. J. Mitchell, authors of the recently published book Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.

Just 2 months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist, and Working Stiff chronicles her 2 years of training. It takes the reader past the police tape of horrific scenes of death and into the morgue, where the depictions of autopsies and startling revelations viewed on such shows as Law & Order are debunked.

Storytelling Collaboration

Dr. Melinek’s coauthor, T. J. Mitchell, is also her husband, and the intimacy of their storytelling collaboration is evident. Mr. Mitchell, a professional writer, does a good job of keeping the pace hopping and mixing multiple storylines into a cohesive narrative. Humans have a natural fascination with death and with those who deal with it on a daily basis, which gives the authors an interesting topic to write about. However, books that tackle a subject like this also run the risk of being repetitive and perhaps appear better suited for a long magazine article. At times, Working Stiff seems to drift off topic, but that is a small gripe for a book that is both entertaining and informative, especially for those in the medical profession.

Forensic pathology is a tough field, and Dr. Melinek’s entry into it couldn’t have come at a tougher time: 9/11. The chapter dealing with the catastrophe is the centerpiece of the book. “DM01-000041 was a crushed head and torso. It was the first body from the attack I would handle. I was immediately overwhelmed…the body was pulverized. Major organs were eviscerated, some still attached by blood vessels and connective tissue, but others were missing entirely.”

This is tough stuff, and it’s written in clear, strong language. This book is a good reminder that the people out there with MD behind their names care for us from cradle to grave, and it’s not easy. Readers of The ASCO Post should enjoy the read. ■