The Education of a Coroner: Lessons in Investigating Death

As creepy as this sounds…I LOVED this book. I’ve always been very interested in crime and almost became a homicide detective. Unfortunately my stomach and heart couldn’t handle it. So I choose to live vicariously through the authors who write non-fiction books about all of the things related to murder and death. Again, I know that sounds creepy and I probably sound like a weirdo but I’m sure I’m not alone! People like us who enjoy reading these kinds of books are interested in the stories behind death cases but just need to view them from an arms length away. This book was so good! I actually received an advanced copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review and this is one of my top favorites books they have ever given me. The Education of a Coroner was written by John Bateson about Ken Holmes who worked as the Marin County Coroner. This area is just a hop, skip and a jump away from where I live which made this book that much more interesting to me. The stories he told about suicide victims being recovered from the Golden Gate Bridge was especially interesting to me because I’ve seen the actual smoke flares they shoot off right after someone has jumped. The stories behind these deaths are at times tragic, but the author finds humor where he can and remains very respectful to the victims. It was a very informative book and I read it very fast!

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In the vein of Dr. Judy Melinek’s Working Stiff, an account of the hair-raising and heartbreaking cases handled by the coroner of Marin County, California throughout his four decades on the job—from high-profile deaths to serial killers, to Golden Gate Bridge suicides.

Marin County, California is a study in contradictions. Its natural beauty attracts thousands of visitors every year, yet the county also is home to San Quentin Prison, one of the oldest and largest penitentiaries in the country. Marin ranks in the top one percent of counties nationwide in terms of affluence and overall health, yet it is far above the norm in drug overdoses and alcoholism, and comprises a large percentage of suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ken Holmes worked in the Marin County Coroner’s Office for thirty-six years, starting as a death investigator and ending as the three-term, elected coroner. As he grew into the job—which is different from what is depicted on television—Holmes learned a variety of skills, from finding hidden clues at death scenes, interviewing witnesses effectively, managing bystanders and reporters, preparing testimony for court to notifying families of a death with sensitivity and compassion. He also learned about different kinds of firearms, all types of drugs—prescription and illegal—and about certain unexpected and potentially fatal phenomena such as autoeroticism.

Complete with poignant anecdotes, The Education of a Coroner provides a firsthand and fascinating glimpse into the daily life of a public servant whose work is dark and mysterious yet necessary for society to function.

The book Working Stiff by Judy Melinek is mentioned above and that book was also AMAZING! Judy was working in the NYC Coroner’s office at the time 9/11 occurred. It was eye opening and super interesting.

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“Fun…and full of smart science. Fans of CSI—the real kind—will want to read it” (The Washington Post): A young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner, and the hair-raising cases that shaped her as a physician and human being.

Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. While her husband and their toddler held down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation—performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines Flight 587.

An unvarnished portrait of the daily life of medical examiners—complete with grisly anecdotes, chilling crime scenes, and a welcome dose of gallows humor—Working Stiff offers a glimpse into the daily life of one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies—and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on television to reveal the secret story of the real morgue. “Haunting and illuminating…the stories from her average workdays…transfix the reader with their demonstration that medical science can diagnose and console long after the heartbeat stops” (The New York Times).

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