Friday, September 16, 2016

Morgue: A Life in Death - Vincent DiMaio, Ron Franscell

 Summary: In this clear-eyed, gritty, and enthralling narrative, Dr. Vincent Di Maio and veteran crime writer Ron Franscell guide us behind the morgue doors to tell a fascinating life story through the cases that have made Di Maio famous-from the exhumation of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to the complex issues in the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Beginning with his street-smart Italian origins in Brooklyn, the book spans 40 years of work and more than 9,000 autopsies, and Di Maio's eventual rise into the pantheon of forensic scientists. One of the country's most methodical and intuitive criminal pathologists will dissect himself, maintaining a nearly continuous flow of suspenseful stories, revealing anecdotes, and enough macabre insider details to rivet the most fervent crime fans. (Summary and pic from

My Review: Unless you’ve been living under a [internet repelling] rock, you’re probably fully aware that there is a huge public focus on wrongfully convicted criminals. If you haven’t heard of Serial, the podcast, and its many spinoffs including Crime Writers on Serial, Truth and Justice, and Undisclosed, then maybe you’ve watched the Netflix show “Making a Murderer,” or at least seen it mentioned in the news. My point is that stuff on wrongfully convicted criminals is everywhere right now. I’ve listened to Serial and Undisclosed, and my husband and I binge-watched “Making a Murderer” (with the rest of America). The point is, for me, who enjoyed these things very much and watches “CSI” for comfort viewing, this book was really interesting. It’s another look at those who are wrongfully convicted. And sometimes those who were not convicted, but should have been.

First of all, I loved the mix of cases DiMaio presents. They’re all really different. Some are high profile, some are more small town, but I think they offered a really interesting viewpoint into what a medical examiner does and how a properly trained one can make a difference. The statistics he presented on the amount of doctors specializing in forensic medicine are shocking in that the need is always rising but the actual doctors going into this field is shrinking dramatically. It’s relatively low pay for a lot of training and difficult work. I think that made his book even more poignant. Medical examiners can make or break a case, and the evidence they find is often in complete opposition to what the defense or prosecution is saying. In light of all the hype around the criminal justice system, I thought that this book was really timely and eye-opening. I had no idea the difference between normal medical examiners, who can be elected and can come from whatever field of study they come from versus the medically trained medical examiners. It is, as you might imagine, the difference of night and day.

In light of the cases discussed in this book, it became completely obvious that examining the body by a correctly trained medical professional is a crucial step in the process of determining whether a suspect is guilty or not. I found that one of the most memorable episodes of the podcast Undisclosed talked to a medical examiner who basically discounted the original findings or the medical examiner. These results would have completely changed the state’s timeline, rendering all of their evidence almost obsolete. I mean…this is serious stuff.

One of the things I liked most about this book is DiMaio’s candid honesty. He doesn’t pull any punches when he talks about the guilty or why they did what they did, and I found it refreshing. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get a little tired of all the political correctness that makes an issue almost more confusing. Instead of saying what the truth is, authors often feel like they must dance around it or use language to mask what they’re really saying. DiMaio is not like this. I appreciated it a lot.

I thought this was a really interesting book. It’s not so heavy of medical terms that it’s confusing or hard to read. It’s very accessible and if you’re into all the criminal justice system discussions going on, this is definitely a book you should check out.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: If you’re sensitive, I wouldn’t read this. There isn’t a lot of language or gratuitous sex, but there is a lot of discussion of violence, and one chapter in particular discusses violence against children. 

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