Book Review: The Education of a Coroner

When I saw The Education of a Coroner: Lessons in Investigating Death by John Bateson on the new arrivals shelf I grabbed it thinking it would be a little extra research for the second book in my murder mystery series. I had no idea I would find the book so fascinating on its own merits.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

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.

My thoughts:

That summary makes the book sound like the boring non fiction slog I thought it might be. And that is so not the case. I don’t know if Ken Holmes is just an entertainer or if Bateson wrote him that way or if their combined efforts gel in exactly the right way. This book was fascinating, a little heart wrenching, and often amusing.

I think the combination of cases, behind the scenes lore, human behavior, and a coroner’s view of the police is what got me. I like to know. Everything.

I’m immediately struck by past arguments I’ve had regarding the police. I always argue that they are good people doing a hard job. But some of the stories told in this book make me feel less secure about that opinion. I also want desperately to go the local archives and read through cases like Bateson did. No time to go down that rabbit hole though. LOL

This is a super well written, very interesting book about the complexities of death and the investigation of death.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Education of a Coroner

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