Monday, January 13, 2020

First Cut by Judy Mitchell & T.J. Melinek: Excerpt, Q&A with Authors, and Review

About the Book

Wife and husband duo Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell first enthralled the book world with their runaway bestselling memoir Working Stiff—a fearless account of a young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner. This winter, Dr. Melinek, now a prominent forensic pathologist in the Bay Area, once again joins forces with writer T.J. Mitchell to take their first stab at fiction.

The result: FIRST CUT a gritty and compelling crime debut about a hard-nosed San Francisco medical examiner who uncovers a dangerous conspiracy connecting the seedy underbelly of the city’s nefarious opioid traffickers and its ever-shifting terrain of tech startups.

Dr. Jessie Teska has made a chilling discovery. A suspected overdose case contains hints of something more sinister: a drug lord’s attempt at a murderous cover up. As more bodies land on her autopsy table, Jessie uncovers a constellation of deaths that point to an elaborate network of powerful criminals—on both sides of the law—that will do anything to keep things buried. But autopsy means “see for yourself,” and Jessie Teska won’t stop until she’s seen it all—even if it means the next corpse on the slab could be her own.
About the Authors

Judy Melinek was an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. She and T.J. Mitchell met as undergraduates at Harvard, after which she studied medicine and practiced pathology at UCLA. Her training in forensics at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is the subject of their first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.  You can find Judy on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.

T.J. Mitchell is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner with his wife, Judy Melinek.  You can find T.J. on Twitter and Goodreads.
Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by [Melinek MD, Judy]
Q & A with the Authors
Q:   What does a day in the life of Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell look like?
A:   Judy is a morning person and T.J.’s a night owl, so we split parenting responsibilities. Judy gets the kids off to school and then heads to the morgue, where she performs autopsies in the morning and works with police, district attorneys, and defense lawyers in the afternoon. T.J. takes care of the household and after-school duties. If we work together during the day, it’s usually by email in the late afternoon. T.J. cooks dinner, Judy goes to bed early, and he’s up late—at his most productive writing from nine to midnight or later.
Hospital Morgue | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Q:   Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?
A:  The idea for First Cut was prompted by some of Judy’s actual cases when she worked as a San Francisco medical examiner. She has real experience performing autopsy death investigation, and she also has the imagination to apply that experience to a fictional framework for our forensic detective, Dr. Jessie Teska. Judy invented the story, and together we worked it up as an outline. Then T.J. sat in a room wrestling with words all day—which he loves to do—to produce the first complete manuscript. That’s our inspiration plus perspiration dynamic as co-authors.
Typical hand tools medical examiners use when performing autopsies.
Q: Do you have stories on the back burner that are just waiting to be written?
A: Always! We are inspired by Dr. Melinek’s real-life work, both in the morgue and at crime scenes, in police interrogation rooms, and in courtrooms. Our stories are fiction—genre fiction structured in the noir-detective tradition—but the forensic methods our detective employs and the scientific findings she comes to are drawn from real death investigations.
 A walk through abandoned morgues
Q:   What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?
A:   The hardest thing is juggling our work schedules to find uninterrupted time together to write. The most fun is meeting and talking to our readers at book events, especially those who have been inspired to go into the field of forensic pathology after reading our work.
The Witch Elm: A Novel by [French, Tana]
Q: What was the last thing you read?
 The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by [Balko, Radley, Carrington, Tucker]
Q: Your top five authors?
A: Judy’s are Atul Gawande, Henry James, Kathy Reichs, Mary Roach, and Oliver Sacks. T.J.’s are Margaret Atwood, Joseph Heller, Ed McBain, Ross Macdonald, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Q: Tell us about what you’re working on now.
A: First Cut is the debut novel in a detective series, and we’ve recently finished the rough draft of Cross Cut, its sequel. We are in the revision phase now, killing our darlings and tightening our tale, working to get the further adventures of Dr. Jessie Teska onto bookshelves next year!
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My Thoughts

First Cut by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell has Dr. Jessie Teska starting over in San Francisco.  Jessie along with her beagle pup, Bea rent a converted cable car.  She then dives into her job as assistant medical examiner.  Jessie notices an alarming number of drug related deaths that are similar.  It starts her investigating that takes her down a dangerous path.  Readers who enjoy forensics will be thrilled with First Cut.  The authors experience shines through in First Cut. The story is well-written and the story proceeds at a thoughtful pace.  I did find First Cut to be a slow starter, but it soon becomes engrossing.  I thought the characters were realistic and developed.  I liked Jessie with her Polish background, cute little dog named Bea, and her quirky abode.  I thought she was spunky.  She leaves a job with her mentor along with state of the art facilities behind in Los Angeles to get a fresh start.  We do not find out why right away.  Clues are dropped with the full story emerging later in the book.  The descriptions are detailed allowing readers to visualize the scenes which brings the story alive.  Be prepared to handle the gory details related to the autopsies (the sounds, smells and what the medical examiner sees during the examination).  There is one corpse that was truly repulsive courtesy to the explosion of fluids.  The mystery is complex and multifaceted.  I enjoyed following Jessie as she delved into the case searching for the truth.  It is a modern case that involves more than drugs (I do not want to spoil it for you).  You will be amazed at how it all plays out in the end.  First Cut is a story that will you keep you guessing.  


Los Angeles

The dead woman on my table had pale blue eyes, long lashes, no mascara. She wore a thin rim of black liner on her lower lids but none on the upper. I inserted the twelve gauge needle just far enough that I could see its beveled tip through the pupil, then pulled the syringe plunger to aspirate a sample of vitreous fluid. That was the first intrusion I made on her corpse during Mary Catherine Walsh’s perfectly ordinary autopsy.

The external examination had been unremarkable. The decedent appeared to be in her mid-thirties, blond hair with dun roots, five foot four, 144 pounds. After checking her over and noting identifying marks (monochromatic professional tattoo of a Celtic knot on lower left flank, appendectomy scar on abdomen, well-healed stellate scar on right knee), I picked up a scalpel and sliced from each shoulder to the breastbone, and then all the way down her belly. I peeled back the layers of skin and fat on her torso—an ordinary amount, maybe a little on the chubby side—and opened the woman’s chest like a book.
Field Autopsy Suite — Advanced Detection Solutions
I had made similar Y-incisions on 256 other bodies during my ten months as a forensic pathologist at the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office, and this one was easy. No sign of trauma. Normal liver. Healthy lungs. There was nothing wrong with her heart. The only significant finding was the white, granular material of the gastric contents. In her stomach was a mass of semi-digested pills.

When I opened her uterus, I found she’d been pregnant. I measured the fetus’s foot length and estimated its age at twelve weeks. The fetus appeared to have been viable. It was too young to determine sex.
MI, Detroit, Wayne County Morgue - autopsy room in the morgue.
I deposited the organs one by one at the end of the stainless-steel table. I had just cut into her scalp to start on the skull when Matt, the forensic investigator who had collected the body the day before, came in.

“Clean scene,” he reported, depositing the paperwork on my station. “Suicide.”
I asked him where he was going for lunch. Yogurt and a damn salad at his desk, he told me: bad cholesterol and a worried wife. I extended my condolences as he headed back out of the autopsy suite.
morgue drawers - Buscar con Google
I scanned through Matt’s handwriting on the intake sheet and learned that the body had been found, stiff and cold, in a locked and secure room at the Los Angeles Omni hotel. The cleaning staff called the police. The ID came from the name on the credit card used to pay for the room, and was confirmed by fingerprint comparison with her driver’s license thumbprint. A handwritten note lay on the bed stand, a pill bottle in the trash. Nothing else. Matt was right: There was no mystery to the way Mary Walsh had died.

I hit the dictaphone’s toe trigger and pointed my mouth toward the microphone dangling over the table. “The body is identified by a Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s tag attached to the right great toe, inscribed LACD-03226, Walsh, Mary Catherine…”
Fab: La Morgue - Música en Google Play
I broke the seal on the plastic evidence bag and pulled out the pill bottle. It was labeled OxyContin, a powerful painkiller, and it was empty.  “Accompanying the body is a sealed plastic bag with an empty prescription medication bottle. The name on the prescription label…”

I read the name but didn’t speak it. The hair started standing up on my neck. I looked down at my morning’s work—the splayed body, flecked with gore, the dissected womb tossed on a heap of other organs.  That can’t be, I told myself. It can’t.
On the clipboard underneath the case intake sheet I found a piece of hotel stationery sealed in another evidence bag. It was the suicide note, written in blue ink with a steady feminine hand. I skimmed it—then stopped, and went back.  I read it again.

I heard the clipboard land at my feet. I gripped the raised lip of my autopsy table. I held tight while the floor fell away.
 A woman collapses to the floor due to cataplexy in narcolepsy type 1
Are you ready to read First Cut?  First Cut is available at Amazon*, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, IndieBound, Harlequin, Target, iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo.  Thank you for joining me today.  I will be back tomorrow when I share my review of The Innkeeper's Bride by Kathleen Fuller.  It is the third An Amish Brides of Birch Creek Novel.  I hope that you have a fulfilling day.  Take care and Happy Reading!


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Deborah DeWit....reminds me of me...old, still dreaming, still holding on to precious treasures, always waiting to be settled in that dreamed of place that never came.
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