You will need a strong stomach to read certain pages of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, as the first author, a pathologist, takes you through very graphic descriptions of autopsies of accident victims, overdosed drug addicts, victims of medical errors, and all others who end up at the New York morgue. And that’s before she plunges into the very dark chapters during which she and the other examiners triage the bodies of the 9/11 victims — while refrigerated trucks line the street for blocks, waiting to deliver their sad cargo.
The book is a memoir but reads like a well-crafted novel, with jumps in the action and clever chronological telescoping, rather than a mere suspenseful police series (the second author, and first author’s husband, is a professional writer). And the work she describes is not just gore and horror, far from it. There are many scenes that show the everyday routine of pathologists, from remembering not to place organs on the side of the table (they slip), making a big show of announcing to all present when money is found on a corpse (to appear extra honest), and managing difficult calls from next of kins (when they don’t like the conclusions of the autopsies). Recommended!