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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins


A Life in Death

ISBN: 9781250067142

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Publication Date: 5/17/2016

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 5 Stars

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.

My Review

A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The renowned forensic pathologist, Dr. Vincent Di Maio and veteran crime writer, Ron Franscell take readers behind the morgue doors to offer eye-opening and compelling stories through a series of cases.

Medical examiners have an important job - to determine how and why a person died. In legal terms, the cause and manner of death. The cause is the disease or injury that killed the deceased—a heart attack, gunshot wound, a disease, or a car crash. The manner is one of four general ways a human can die—natural causes, accident, suicide, or homicide—plus a vexing fifth: undetermined.

A huge fan of NCIS, CSI, Law and Order, and other similar TV shows, movies, and books surrounding crime, forensic science, pathology, and medicine-- we all are fascinated by the mystery and puzzles surrounding death.

With MORGUE A Life in Death by Dr. Vincent Di Maio and Ron Franscell readers receive the important realities, not just the fictional glamour; what really happens, exploring the truth and hidden dramas of the human condition. The challenge of piecing together the puzzles and mystery---to seek the truth. The best non-fiction, reading as an intense fictional account.

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” --Ernest Hemingway

“In the end we simply cannot determine the facts beyond a reasonable doubt if we don’t let capable, skilled professionals use their special knowledge to explain difficult technical issues to juries. Juries can embrace it, or ignore it, but they must hear it.”

Even with all the technology, a good forensic pathologist’s best tools are his hands and brain. Reasoning is still our most powerful forensic tool. DeMaio became a doctor to help people. There is a big price to pay for the career.

Computer and various forensic sciences are booming with more exciting developments to come, by the human factor is woefully lagging. Their education alone would cost around, $170,000. The average salary of a medical examiner is just under $185,000 a year; a deputy chief or chief ME $190,000-$220,000. Their salaries are much lower than those of their hospital-based pathology peers - $335,000 yr. Be prepared to go the journey.

From the irregular hours, weird smells, emotional traumas, unhelpful patients, images what will never be erased from their brains, exposure to disease, lawyers, cops, trial testimony, bureaucrats, and budgets drearier than a morgue cooler. More forensic pathologists are needed—without them there are fewer autopsies-- investigations suffer, and evidence is lost or overlooked and crimes unsolved.

Insightful and intriguing broken out in clear insightful short story chapters:

• Foreword – Dan Jan Garavaglia • One: Black and White o Florida teen, Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman • Two: Why Incision o 40 years of work-DiMaio’s intriguing background • Three: An Empty Nursery • Four: Bombed Beyond Recognition • Five: Digging up Lee Harvey Oswald • Six: Monsters Among Us • Seven: Secrets and Puzzles • Eight: Death, Justice, and Celebrity • Nine: The Ghosts of West Memphis • Ten: The Curious Death of Vincent Van Gough • Epilogue: At the End of Things

Medical examiners bear a heavy burden to reach an unbiased, fact-based, scientific conclusion, no matter what a dead person’s family, friends, enemies or neighbors wish it to be. "The truth." Their job is more than the dead. The living can go to jail, and lives can be saved from viruses and germs. Innocence can be determined. Questions answered, suspicions authenticated.

From conspiracy theories, supernatural explanations, and mythology. Forensic science is not magic or alchemy, even though complex technology and intricate research can take curdled blood, bullet fragments, bone shards, and flakes of skins and them into justice. The tiny bit of truth that death leaves behind. Truths, not always welcome by many.

Forensic science can see what ordinary humans often cannot, but science isn’t enough. As the author stresses, they need these credible and honorable people to explain it all. They interpret science for true justice to happen. The bedrock of justice. It does not change its story or, misremember what it saw. Honestly and candidly what we need to know, even when we want it to say something else. See and interpret.

The absorbing exploration will fascinate crime buffs, enthusiasts, scholars, and those interested in the overall criminal justice system. Morgue will make you appreciate the struggles and challenges of this highly respected profession.

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Advance Praise

Engrossing … the often lurid, occasionally sad, and always intriguing details never overpower the drive that fuels Dr. Di Maio’s life and work. … Di Maio and Franscell deliver a well-paced, thoughtful, and absorbing work that will fascinate crime buffs and scholars alike.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)

“I thoroughly enjoyed this compelling read. So many fascinating reminiscences. So much factual detail of cases I only read about in the newspapers. Wonderful historical details, too. This will certainly take a place of pride on my pathology shelf.” —DAVID McCALLUM, star of CBS’ hit TV drama “NCIS” and forensic science buff

“The fascinating making of a global leader in forensic pathology from his Brooklyn beginnings tutored by his father, the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, to San Antonio, Texas. From Trayvon Martin to Lee Harvey Oswald, Phil Spector, and the West Memphis Three, an expert’s insights into the real world of autopsies, exhumations and courtroom testimony.” —MICHAEL M. BADEN, M.D., former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, author, and host of HBO’s “Autopsy”

“Readers interested in forensic pathology, medical investigation, justice, courtroom dramas, and criminal law will find this book simply to die for.” —LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Vincent Di Maio and Ron Franscell have produced a powerful book … in language and style that the lay person can easily comprehend. Di Maio comes across as fair and unbiased, and as a strong advocate for justice regardless of whether it is a defense attorney or prosecutor examining him on the stand. This is a book that you will not want to put down … I highly recommend this book, especially to forensic practitioners and lay persons interested in the criminal justice system.”— DR. LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, chairman of Forensic Sciences at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and commentator at CNN, Court TV, CBS, and others.

“Astonishingly good and compulsively readable, this book is what happens when one of the world’s most renowned medical examiners meets a veteran crime journalist. Part insider’s memoir, part CSI on steroids, this book is a must-read for all crime fans.” — GREGG OLSEN, NYTimes bestselling author of “Starvation Heights” and “A Twisted Faith”

“Corpse flies, gunshot residue, and a gaggle of grisly details make the stories in MORGUE vividly memorable and unsettling. Medical examiner DiMaio, along with journalist Franscell, provides a peek into the often wild world of forensic science. … Fans of the TV shows ‘CSI,’ ‘Bones,’ or ‘Quincy, M.E.,’ will love this book.” —BOOKLIST (starred review)

“When one of the world’s most celebrated medical examiners teams up with one of the world’s best true-crime authors, the result is a brilliantly written forensic masterpiece. MORGUE is a must-read for all CSI fans. I highly recommend it.” — STEVE HODEL, NYTimes bestselling author of “Black Dahlia Avenger” and LAPD Homicide Detective (Ret.)


“A forensic-literary tour de force, Di Maio and Franscell exhume some of the most controversial murders and deaths of our time for examination, from Trayvon Martin to Lee Harvey Oswald and Vincent Van Gogh, in this fascinating, new and uniquely compelling take on unsolved mysteries.” — CAITLIN ROTHER, NYTimes bestselling author of “Lost Girls” and “Poisoned Lov

About the Authors

Vincent J. M. Di Maio, MD, is an American pathologist and an internationally renowned expert on gunshot wounds. Now a private consultant who's performed more than 9,000 autopsies, he's played pivotal roles in some of the most provocative trials and death investigations of the past 40 years. Di Maio was chief medical examiner of San Antonio, Texas, until 2006. He is editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, and has been awarded many honors. In 2014, he was appointed to the U.S. Department of Justice's first-ever National Commission on Forensic Science to help develop uniform federal codes in death investigations. Read More

Ron Franscell is the bestselling crime author of The Darkest Night and Delivered from Evil. He has been praised by Ann Rule, Vincent Bugliosi and other true-crime heavyweights as one of the most provocative new voices in narrative nonfiction.His work regularly appears in publications such as the Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, San Jose Mercury-News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He is also a novelist whose books include Angel Fire and The Deadline. He now lives in Texas. Read More






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