Sunday, April 22, 2018

Review of "The Woman in the Window" by A.J. Finn



At one time Dr. Anna Fox - 38-years-old - was a successful child psychologist living in a renovated four-story Manhattan townhouse with her husband Ed and school age daughter Olivia. Now Anna is an agoraphobic who can't leave her home. Ed and Olivia reside elsewhere, and Anna lives alone except for her cat Punch, and her tenant/handyman, David - who rents the house's basement maisonette. Since Anna is housebound, she gets her medication, groceries, produce, wine, and other needs delivered.....and David takes care of trash and routine maintainance.

Anna calls Ed and Olivia every day, always opening the conversation with a cheery, "Guess whooooo?" Anna misses her family terribly, and delights in these daily talks.

Though Anna is confined, she's not averse to seeing people, and her doorbell rings frequently - heralding visits from her renter David, her physical therapist Bina, her psychiatrist Dr. Fielding, and her new neighbors, Alistair and Jane Russell and their teenage son Ethan. The Russells just moved into a multimillion dollar townhouse across from Anna's home, and the agoraphobic has a clear view into their residence from her windows.

With all this traffic through her house, you'd think Anna would take care of her appearance, but the psychologist takes A LOT of medication - including powerful psychotropic drugs - and drinks AT LEAST a bottle or two of Merlot a day (which is strictly contraindicated with her meds). Thus Anna is usually 'impaired', and often wanders around the house unshowered, in a grubby bathrobe and slippers.

Anna occupies her time playing online chess, taking computer French lessons, visiting a chat website for agoraphobics, and watching vintage suspense movies - especially Hitchcock classics. Anna's favorite activity, though, is spying on her neighbors with her Nikon telephoto camera.....and data mining them online. Thus the psychologist knows all about her neighbors' education, jobs, income, day-to-day routines, spending habits, food preferences, favorite television programs, book clubs, romantic affairs, and so on. (If I had a neighbor like this I would buy blackout curtains!)

After a visit from her new neighbor Jane Russell - during which the women play chess, tour the house, and drink 3 or 4 bottles of wine - Anna thinks she's made a new friend. Things go south, however, when the psychologist sees a violent occurrence in the Russell household. Anna calls the police, but the Russells deny that anything happened, and NO ONE believes the 'delusional' agoraphobic. One male detective tries to be kind but his female partner is especially cruel, and makes it clear she thinks Anna is an attention-seeking liar.

The psychologist is positive she saw a crime, though, and sets out to look for evidence. Anna makes it her business to investigate the Russells, and proceeds to accuse everyone in sight of various misdeeds. Meanwhile, strange things start to happen to Anna, which she can't explain. In part, this is the agoraphobic's own fault, since she overshares online. You'd think an intelligent woman with a Ph.D would know better.....but maybe it's the drugs and alcohol.

As the story unfolds we find out what led to Anna's illess and what secrets the Russells are hiding. Eventually, everything comes to a head in a dramatic - though VERY drawn out - denouement.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book.The portrayal of Anna's debilitating syndrome is realistic, and I found her to be a (mostly) sympathetic protagonist. The other characters in the book are also well-drawn, and the story is compelling.

I do have reservations about (what I consider to be) huge holes in the plot. These are spoilers, so if you haven't read the book you might want to skip this part.

SPOILER ALERT / SPOILER ALERT

First.....haven't these New York detectives ever heard of fingerprints? When there's a question about whether someone was inside Anna's house, the police should just dust for prints. Even if it's just to humor the 'delusional' agoraphobic. Fingerprints (or the lack thereof) would prove the matter one way or the other.

Second.....There are VERY STRICT hipaa regulations about doctor-patient confidentiality. In the book, Dr. Fielding (moronically) blabs all about Anna's condition to the cops. Psychiatrists are NOT PERMITTED to do this. I was ABSOLUTELY AGHAST at this breach of professional responsibility!!

Third.....When the cops learn about Anna's diagnosis, they proceed to talk to her about it in front of David and the Russells. WTF?? The police shouldn't have this information to begin with, and CERTAINLY HAVE NO BUSINESS discussing it in front of the whole neighborhood.

If it was me, I would sue the crap out of the psychiatrist and the cops.


END SPOILER ALERT / END SPOILER ALERT

In spite of my reservations, this is one of the better mysteries I've read recently. I had an idea about the book's climax - and I was right - but this didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story. I'd recommend the novel to fans of psychological thrillers.

I understand the book has been optioned for a movie, and the film should be good if it's done right. (Calling Reese Witherspoon. Ha ha ha)

Rating: 3.5 stars

Friday, April 20, 2018

Review of "Miss Seeton Flies High: A Miss Seeton Mystery" by Hamilton Crane




Miss Seeton is the heroine of a long series of humorous cozy mysteries. She's a former art teacher, now grey-haired and retired, who faithfully does her yoga every morning. This discipline keeps Miss Seeton exceptionally spry, which permits her to have madcap adventures and help Scotland Yard solve crimes. Miss Seeton is usually oblivious to her own hijinks, however, and thinks she's just living the routine life of a well-mannered older lady.

The original author of the series was Heron Carvic, and - after his death - other writers carried on. This story, the 23rd in the series, was penned by Hamilton Crane.

The books can be read as standalones with no problem.

********.

Miss Emily Seeton is a retired art teacher who lives a quiet life in the English village of Plummergen. However, unlike most elderly ladies, Miss Seeton is on retainer to Scotland Yard. MissEss, as she's known to the Yard, has a knack for inadvertently bashing criminals with her umbrella, earning her the moniker 'The Battling Brolly.' Moreover, Miss Seeton has a supernatural ability to sketch felons and their crimes - and these 'doodles' (as she calls them) provide important clues to the police.

Miss Seeton's contact at the Yard is Chief Superintendent Delphick, known as 'The Oracle.' In this book, Delphick - at the request of his colleagues - 'consults' MissEss about three crimes: a kidnapping, distribution of marijuana, and a murder.

The book, set in the 1970s, starts off with glimpses into two families.

In Plummergen, Nigel Colvedon - the scion of Sir George and Lady Colvedon - has returned home with his French bride - and is living with the folks while his new house is built. Nigel is caring for the sheep on the Colvedon estate when a ewe kicks him in the face and gives him a black eye. This leads to a lively conversation about sheep when Nigel visits Miss Seeton.

Further west, in Glastonbury, four Callender siblings - Bill, Crispin, Octavia, and Valentine - are having a meeting. They recently inherited 'Callender's Coats' from their father, and are discussing expanding the business. For this purpose, they'd like to take back a parcel of land being used for sheep by their poor relations - a matter that's governed by official regulations. Bill and Crispin are very involved with the factory, while Val is a professional weaver and Octavia owns a bookstore. This plotline is threaded through the entire book.

Back home in Plummergen, Miss Seeton is asked to design scenery for the Amateur Dramatic Society's Christmas pantomime, which will feature a play about King Arthur. MissEss wants her Arthurian sketches to be authentic, so she plans a trip to Glastonbury, which has strong ties to the King Arthur legend.

Before Miss Seeton embarks on her journey, she's visited by Chief Superintendent Delphick, who tells her that Christy Garth - the playboy son of wealthy Caleb Garth - has been kidnapped. Delphick shows MissEss a photo of Christy, and asks her to make a sketch - hoping her drawing furnishes clues to the young man's whereabouts. MissEss's rendering turns out to be a quirky cartoon of grinning sheep.

The next day, the narcotics squad contacts Delphick with a report of rampaging sheep in Glastonbury. It appears that drug dealers left town in a hurry, leaving behind marijuana bales that were consumed by the marauding (but happy) animals.

Unaware of this brouhaha, Miss Seeton makes her way to Glastonbury, where she checks into a small guesthouse. Glastonbury is a 'hippie' town with a mystical atmosphere and a scent of incense on the breeze. The men in the area tend to sport long hair, flared trousers, and sandals; and the women often don caftans and strings of beads. Unlike Plummergen, the Glastonbury shops sell amulets, star charts, Tarot cards, crystal balls, cauldrons, books about witchcraft, occult candles, statuettes of wizards and elves, costumes, robes, pointed hats, and glittering crowns.

Miss Seeton is captivated by the atmosphere of Glastonbury and - after settling into her room - starts her sightseeing activities. This includes visiting the Abbey ruins where (mythical) King Arthur is supposedly buried and climbing Glastonbury Tor, which has a ruined church tower at the summit.

While she's walking around, MissEss meets people who lecture her about the local legends. This is an opportunity for Hamilton Crane to include A LOT of information about King Arthur and his Knights as well as Glastonbury folklore. For example, legend has it that the ancients mapped the constellations of the Zodiac (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces) into the town's landscape.....and that Glastonbury Tor is an entrance to Annwn, the original Celtic Underworld.

Miss Seeton also wins a raffle, and gets a free ride in a hot air balloon. This is a chance for fellow balloonists to point out the Zodiac and other mythical sites on the ground, including a topographical replica of one of King Arthur's swords. (Unfortunately - hard as she tries - MissEss can't make out any of this. 😉)

I'd estimate that about a fifth of the book is devoted to this mystical/legendary/Arthurian information. I found this material tedious...but fans of historical fiction might like it.

While Miss Seeton is gallivanting around, Scotland Yard is trying to find Christy Garth (the kidnap victim), round up the marijuana growers who got the sheep high, and solve the murder of a tourist who was killed in Glastonbury. Delphick manages to get MissEss to draw some sketches, which turn out to be prophetic, and everything is resolved by the end of the book.

The Miss Seeton books are meant to be humorous cozy mysteries, and this book is amusing. One scene, where a rural constable thinks Miss Seeton in one of Scotland Yard's most wanted, is quite funny. However, the Miss Seeton novels by Hamilton Crane are not as laugh out loud funny as those written by the original author, Heron Carvic. If the series continues, I hope Miss Seeton goes back to her former zany antics.

This is an enjoyable cozy mystery, suitable for a few hours of light reading.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author (Hamilton Crane), and the publisher (Farrago) for a copy of the book.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review of "Bruno, Chief of Police" by Martin Walker



Benoit Courreges, Chief of Police of St. Denis, France, is known as Bruno to everyone in the tight little community. Bruno loves the town and tries to ensure that the local traditions are not disturbed by pesky regulations from the European Union. Bruno turns a blind eye (and even helps the scofflaws), for example, when health inspectors who would ban some homemade goods from the weekly market are held up due to slashed tires or potatoes in their exhaust pipes.

Though St. Denis has a mixed population of native French men and women as well as Algerians and other foreigners, people get along and there is little serious crime. Thus Bruno has plenty of time to socialize, play tennis, teach tennis to youngsters, follow the local rugby team, make his own wine and paté, garden, and so on.

Then one day an Algerian grandfather is found brutally murdered in his cabin, a swastika carved into his chest and his medal of honor and a treasured photo missing. Members of the right-wing National Front, a political party that opposes immigration, immediately rise to the top of the suspect list.

Given the background between France and Algeria - as well as some anti-immigration sentiment - the investigation is politically sensitive. Thus big-wig detectives and officials are sent to St. Denis to take over the inquiry. Bruno has invaluable local knowledge however, and - with the help of some acquaintances - is instrumental in uncovering important clues.

Along the way Bruno has a romance, plays tennis doubles, has a delicious English meal prepared by two British ladies, drinks a good deal of wine and champagne, has a unique picnic, and so on. The author skillfully weaves the wonderful ambiance of St. Denis into the story, and the reader is simultaneously charmed by the town and intrigued by the murder investigation.

The story is full of interesting characters, including an Algerian math teacher and his family, two patriotic World War II veterans who haven't spoken for thirty years, mischievous children, hard-partying/drug-dealing teenagers, attractive ladies, political operatives, gendarmes, and more.

The murder investigation uncovers some interesting aspects of French/Algerian history while driving the story forward at a steady clip. All in all a very enjoyable cozy mystery, highly recommended.

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Review of "An American Marriage (Oprah's Book Club 2018 Selection)" by Tayari Jones




This book is about the effect of a wrongful conviction on a young, upwardly mobile, black couple who - at one time - had high hopes for their future.

Roy Hamilton grew up in Eloe, Louisiana with his mother Olive and his stepfather Big Roy, who raised the boy like his own son. Little Roy was aided by 'leg-up' programs like Head Start and Upward Bound, and eventually got a scholarship to Morehouse College, where he did well in class and was a 'playa' with the ladies.

At Morehouse, Roy's roommate Andre introduced the playa to his long-time friend Celestial Davenport - a beautiful, upper middle-class, Atlanta native who was at Spelman College. Andre and Celestial grew up as next door neighbors, and often joked about being bathed together as babies.

There may have been low-key sparks when Roy and Celestial met, but nothing lit up until years later - when they got reacquainted, embarked on a romance, and wed. The union had rocky moments, since Roy considered it his right to (AT LEAST) 'flirt' with the ladies and collect phone numbers. However, the couple persevered and made plans for a future.....ideally with children. Roy planned to be a businessman and Celestial - a gifted artist - hoped to open a boutique to sell her beautiful, handmade, one-of-a-kind, baby dolls - which she called poupées.

Roy and Celestial settled down in Atlanta, and - eighteen months after the nuptials - decided to visit Roy's parents in Eloe. During an overnight stay in a Louisiana motel, Roy was accused of raping another guest. Roy was innocent, but his trial went badly because he was black - and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Roy broke down in tears when the verdict was announced, knowing the rest of his life would be blighted.

During the early part of Roy's incarceration, he and Celestial exchange letters, and we follow their shifting relationship through these epistles. Roy believes he's meant to be with Celestial, is anxious to retain her love, AND feels it's his due. Roy tries to express his feelings in letters, but finds it hard to find the right words. Meanwhile, Celestial's uncle, an attorney, is working day and night to get Roy's conviction overturned. However, this endeavor runs into roadblock after roadblock.....and Celestial and Roy start to lose hope.

For a couple of years, Celestial writes Roy regularly, and even visits the prison occasionally - though the trip is long and grueling. However, this isn't what Celestial signed up for, and - lonely and disoriented - she grows closer to her friend Andre. In time, they become a couple.

Celestial sends Roy a 'Dear John' letter (without mentioning Andre) and begins to contemplate divorce. By now Celestial has gained fame as an artist, been featured in a magazine, and opened her upscale doll shop, called Poupée.

After the letter-writing between the couple ceases, the story is narrated by Roy, Celestial, and Andre, in rotating sections.

Roy, who's sad about Celestial and angry about his unjust fate, describes his experiences in prison -where he falls under the protection of his cellmate, 'Ghetto Yoda.' Roy's commissary account is funded by Celestial and his parents, so the jailbird is able to get Ramen noodles, cigarettes (for barter), toiletries, and so on. Meanwhile, Roy's devoted parents are heartbroken, and we learn how his imprisonment affects their lives.

In Celestial's sections, she describes her ambivalent feelings for Roy; her business successes; her interactions with her parents - who were never Roy's biggest fans; and the evolution of her relationship with Andre.

For his part, Andre explains that he feels sympathy for Roy, but has been (secretly) in love with Celestial since they were kids......and feels it's his turn to be with her.

I don't want to say more about the plot, except that dramatic developments occur.

Readers who wrote reviews of this novel seem to express a wide array of opinions, depending on their feelings about the Roy-Celestial-Andre triangle. People who believe marriage is a sacred bond that must NEVER be broken - NO MATTER WHAT - are angry at Celestial and Andre, and rake them over the coals.

Other readers (like me), who think people are allowed to change their minds - especially when one partner is incarcerated - are more sympathetic to Celestial and Andre. That said, I didn't love this book. Though the writing is excellent, and I felt sympathy for the characters - especially poor Roy - I didn't find the story very compelling.

For one thing, I was never convinced the Roy-Celestial relationship would work, even if the playa never went to jail. Roy had an entitled attitude and a roving eye, and I don't believe he would have been a faithful husband. Additionally, I'm convinced Roy WOULD NEVER wait for Celestial to get out of prison if their positions were reversed. Thus my empathy for the convict was tamped down.....and I was impatient to get to the end of the book.

That said, Oprah Winfrey chose this novel for her book club, and many people have made glowing comments about the story. So - though I don't personally recommend the book - you might want to check it out and make up your own mind.


Rating: 3 stars

Monday, April 16, 2018

Review of "Fatal Decree: A Matt Royal Mystery" by H. Terrell Griffin




Disturbing things are happening on Longboat Key, located off St. Petersburg, Florida. Serial murders that happened in Miami twelve years ago seem to be happening on Longboat Key now. The first local victim is Nell Alexander, the wife of Gene Alexander, an agent with a secret government organization. Was Nell killed because of her husband's job?

Moreover, is it just a coincidence that J.D. Duncan, a new detective with the Longboat Key police, once worked on the Miami cases? Could someone be sending her an ominous message? J.D. and her friend, retired attorney Matt Royal, look into the crimes. (For readers who like a spot of romance there's some chemistry between these two.)

Before long there are several attempts to kill J.D, some of which she escapes by sheer luck. People also seem to be trying to kill Matt, the most likely suspects being suspicious-looking Guatemalans who've been hanging around. To cap it all off, Gene Alexander is soon found murdered, though his death has been staged (incompetently) to look like suicide.

As luck would have it Matt's friend Jock - who works for the same secret agency as Gene Alexander - is in town for some fishing. Jock has very high connections, and a word from him helps Matt get all kinds of inside information. The main action of the story consists of Matt and J.D. trying to figure out what the heck is going on while their lives are in jeopardy and additional murders are occurring all over Longboat Key.

There are plenty of characters in the story, the main bad guys being a fake lawyer and various hired assassins. These criminals seem to have very little backbone, however, and - as soon as they're apprehended - start blabbing everything they know. Meanwhile, the official investigation limps along slowly, with Matt and J.D (and sometimes Jock) going to a lot of restaurants, bringing everyone sandwiches, and so on.

I don't want to reveal spoilers so I'll just say the plot doesn't hold together and the ending - where all is revealed - is complex and completely unbelievable. 😒 I don't recommend this book. There are plenty of better mystery/thrillers available.


Rating: 2 stars

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review of "Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner" by Judy Melinek, M.D. and T.J. Mitchell


"


The work of a medical examiner (ME) is endlessly fascinating to the public, as evidenced by the many TV shows that feature forensic pathologists - like Quincy; Law and Order; CSI; NCIS; Rizzoli and Isles; Hawaii-Five-O and others. In fiction, pathologists often resolve their cases quickly - making lightning fast determinations, intuiting what happened, and (often) nabbing the culprit themselves.

This is very different from real life, where toxicology and DNA tests take months to process, coroners' findings are relayed to police detectives, and the cops (hopefully) nab the perp. Moreover, in reality, most deaths are due to natural causes, disease, accidents, undetected anatomical defects, mental illness, and so on - and no crimes are involved.

In this enlightening and entertaining book, Dr. Judy Melinek describes her two years as a forensic pathology fellow at the 'Office of the Chief Medical Examiner' (OCME) in New York, where she honed her chops as an ME. The ME's job is to determine the cause and manner of death in cases where the deceased dies suddenly, violently, unexpectedly, in suspicious circumstances, etc.

When Melinek graduated from UCLA Medical School in 1996, she wanted to be a surgeon. The surgical residency was grueling, however, and Melinek feared making a mistake that would kill a patient. Thus, Melinek switched her specialty to forensic pathology. Melinek's interest in the field may have stemmed, in part, from the suicide of her father at age 38, when she was 13 years old - an event she discusses extensively in the book.

Melinek, her husband J.T. Mitchell (the co-author of this book), and their baby Daniel settled down in New York in 2001. There, Melinek began work at the OCME under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Hirsch - whom she describes as "a pipe-smoking, avuncular doctor out of a Norman Rockwell painting." Among other things, Hirsch held morning rounds and afternoon rounds, at which the medical examiners presented their findings and discussed what to write on death certificates about the cause and manner of death. These determinations were made using a variety of means, such as: the autopsy; visiting the death scene; reviewing medical records; speaking to witnesses; consulting detectives; and so on.....all while collecting evidence that might be used in court.

When assigned a body to autopsy, the first thing an ME does is examine the person's external characterstics, and make a record of bruises, cuts, scrapes, scars, tattoos, burns, needle marks, and so on. The ME then goes on to probe the inside of the body, and these procedures are thoroughly described in the book.

During her two years at the OCME Melinek worked on a wide variety of cases, including victims of the World Trade Center disaster; people who contracted anthrax from a bioterrorism scare; and bodies from American Airlines Flight 587 - which crashed in NYC. To provide a feel for Melinek's job, I'll give examples of some of the cases she worked on or observed.

Cable Guy
A man dubbed 'Cable Guy' smoked crystal meth before walking his dogs, and accidently locked himself out of his 9th floor apartment. Instead of calling a locksmith, Cable Guy tied his dogs to the doorknob, went up to the roof, tied a cable around his chest, and tried to rappel down to his open window one floor down. The cable broke and the man fell to his death. Melinek's autopsy showed a fractured skull and shattered ribs that cut through the victim's lungs, esophagus, aorta, and pulmonary artery. The death was ruled accidental. The dogs were fine.

Grisly Industrial Accident
An egg roll factory has a combination shredder-mixer that fills a whole room. The shredder in a Manhattan plant blew apart while spinning, and sent the central drum and blade flying. The blade amputated the arm of one worker, and shrapnel injured two other employees. The metal cylinder landed on the upper chest and neck of a fourth worker, who was pinned to the floor and crushed. Melinek found that the man's head was uninjured and he was fully conscious until he died of suffocation. The unfortunate victim's death was ruled accidental.

Alcoholism
Melinek performed scores of autopsies on people who died of acute or chronic alcohol intoxication. Melinek's last autopsy in New York was on a victim who died of acute AND chronic alcohol poisoning. A man's dead body was found on the steps of a church in winter. After getting the results of toxicological tests, Melinek determined that the deceased - a chronic alcoholic who had lived on the streets for 30 years - was fall down drunk when he fell asleep and died of hypothermia. The death was ruled an accident.

Drug Overdose
Deaths from a drug overdose are fairly common, the typical victim being young and otherwise healthy. To fill out the death certificate, Melinek would usually just wait for the toxicology report and write in the cause of death. Drug overdose autopsies were usually quick and easy.....unless the family of the victim couldn't accept the truth.

Robert Ward was a 28-year-old white man with a history of alcoholism and drug abuse. One day Robert went out with friends, and was later found dead in his apartment. His mom, Mrs. Ward, didn't want her son autopsied: "Don't touch my baby." An autopsy was required by law, however, and the toxicology report took four months to reach Melinek's office.

During that time Mrs. Ward called Melinek at least twice a week, insisting 'Bobby didn't do drugs', and offering other theories for his death. These included: bad sushi, poisonous beer, misuse of a friend's asthma medication, anthrax, Nyquil, and dust mites.

When the toxicology report was finally completed, it showed a lethal concoction of heroin, cocaine, and the sedative diazepam.....and Melinek ruled Ward's death an accident. However Mrs. Ward couldn't let it go, and now insisted that Bobby's death was a homicide, the fault of the dealer who sold him the drugs.

The Bucket Bugaboo
A police officer brought the OCME a goop-filled bucket that looked like it might contain a dead fetus. An ME carefully emptied the pail, which contained a statuette of kissing angels, maraschino cherries, and a couple of two-foot-long donkey dongs. No fetus. The consensus was that this was probably a Santeria love potion.....not a case for the OCME. (LOL)

Suicides
Melinek saw many suicides. These cases were fairly easy to diagnose, especially when they required premeditation and planning - like suicide by hanging, which causes ligature marks on the neck and purple hands and feet. Other suicides during Melinek's tenure at the OCME included people who jumped into the East River, and victims who leapt from the balcony of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square. The hotel jumpers might have expected a smooth fall to the ground, but they generally pinballed and bumped into structures, severing their limbs and scattering their brains all over.

Sometimes apparent 'suicides' were actually homicides or accidents, and the ME's final determination depended on investigation of the death scene; information provided by families and police detectives; a suicide note; and so on.

Attack on the World Trade Center
On September 11, 2001 - nine weeks after Melinek started work at the OCME - two planes collided with the World Trade Center, causing thousands of deaths. The bodies of the victims came to the OCME, and Melinek was one of 30 doctors who worked to identify the remains and assemble evidence of mass murder. Many of the victims had been smashed to bits, and the MEs had to treat each specimen - be it a hand, a toe, a scrap of tissue, etc. - as if it were an entire body.....the goal being to identify the deceased.

The bodies and body parts arrived by the truckload, and after DNA was collected, each 'specimen' was assigned to an ME. Melinek's first 'body' was a smashed head and torso - limbs gone, body missing below the naval - which was burned black and smelled of jet fuel. The MEs' sole task was identification, so each doctor tried to use fingerprints, distinguishing marks, personal possessions - whatever they could find - to ID the victims. This was a daunting task that took eight months, during which 'ordinary' autopsies also had to be done. Needless to say, Melinek and her colleagues were overwhelmed.

Anthrax Scare
The World Trade Center situation was exacerbated by the anthrax scare, which began a week after 9/11. Someone started sending letters containing anthrax germs to news agencies in New York and Florida, and to politicians in Washington DC. Several people died, and the OCME began to get myriad phone calls from frightened citizens. Moreover, the OCME's technicians were too scared to assist with autopsies, so Melinek and the other MEs had to work alone (or assist each other).

Plane Crash
As if 9/11 and the anthrax scare weren't bad enough, New York experienced a major plane wreck in November, 2001. American Airlines Flight 587 crashed soon after taking off from JFK International Airport, killing all 261 souls aboard, as well as five people on the ground. Again the victims' remains were taken to the OCME, where the mauled, twisted, charred, kerosene-contaminated body parts were identified. The cause of the crash - at first thought to be terrorism - was determined to be pilot error.

In spite of it all, Melinek enjoyed her job and the 'trial by fire' she endured while working at the OCME. During her time there, Melinek performed 262 autopsies, made 13 court appearances, and had another baby. After completing her two-year fellowship in forensic pathology in 2002, Melinek did a one-year fellowship in neuropathology, then took a job in San Jose, California. Since then Melinek has performed thousands more autopsies.

In summary, Melinek notes that she loves the work, the medicine, and the science; she also loves the non-medical aspects of the job, including counseling families, collaborating with detectives, and testifying in court. Sounds good to me!

I enjoyed the book, which contains numerous compelling stories about Melinek's - and her colleagues - work, as well as amusing tidbits about the authors' personal lives. I'd recommend this memoir to everyone interested in forensic pathology.


Rating: 4.5 stars

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Review of "Damage Control" by Robert Dugoni




When a young law professor named James Hill is viciously murdered during a home robbery in Seattle, Washington his twin sister Dana is devastated. Dana, also a lawyer, finds an expensive earring in James' apartment and sets off to help Detective Mike Logan investigate James' death. This requires interviewing people, traveling, and skipping work - which is difficult since Dana has a vengeful boss, a toddler daughter named Molly, and a neglectful self-centered husband. Nevertheless intrepid Dana carries on and discovers that James had a hideaway cabin and that the earring belonged to a beautiful woman in the public eye.

Dana's intereference creates trouble, however, since someone knows her every move and murder follows in her wake. Moreover the two thugs who robbed and killed James also become targets of a killer. Detective Logan and Dana realize that a huge cover-up is in the works - but what is being covered up?

During all this Dana has serious health concerns and deep-seated marital problems. It helps though, that warm-hearted Detective Logan provides support and sympathy. Dana's mom assists also, by caring for Molly while Dana pursues the case. There are plenty of other characters in the story, including a fey jewelry maker who seems to have psychic powers; a presidential candidate; security personnel; a witness to one of the killings; and so on. This helps round out the story.

Though somewhat predictable this is an enjoyable fast-paced thriller, good for a plane ride or beach read.

Rating: 3 stars