I met Joseph Scott Morgan at SIBA this past fall, and I knew without a doubt this was one book I HAD to read. Morgan stated that someone had deemed his book "the creation of a new genre". I'm not sure I would argue with that.
Because what is this book? A memoir? True crime? A collection of really disturbing pictures? Maybe this IS a new genre, or maybe not, but I'm not sure it fits in any I've ever read before.
Synopsis: Joseph Scott Morgan has spent most of his career in a profession that we would all probably find fascinating and electrifying, based on all the popular TV shows...a death investigator. He started out in this field in New Orleans, working there for six years before moving to Atlanta and performing those same tasks for an additional fourteen years. He also was an autopsy assistant, performing over 7,000 autopsies over his career.
Morgan interweaves the story of his childhood, fraught with violence and abuse, with stories from his years in the forensic field. While one might attest that his youth prepared him to disengage his mind from the horrors he would witness in his adulthood, it did not. As Morgan relates the most disturbing crimes scenes he has processed, he also is brutally honest about the toll it has taken on his physical and mental health. How seeing all forms of death can sneak up on a guy, and cause him to wonder when his number will come up. So at a cocktail party, when someone asks him "what is the worst thing you've ever seen"? Joseph knows that these innocents cannot handle the truth. There are some things no man should ever have to witness.
My thoughts: I am not sure what I expected with this book. I knew it was a must-read for me, because I am a true crime junkie. But it wasn't quite what I thought it would be. I guess I didn't expect so much background on the author himself. This was not a bad thing, in fact he did a nice job of transitioning between experiences in his childhood to memorable cases in his career.
The stories are frankly horrifying. Remember, he is investigating death in New Orleans and Atlanta - how much worse could it get? In fact, if you have lost someone recently, I would recommend you hold off on reading this because his descriptions of decomposition, the smells, the identification of a body, and autopsy procedures are not what you want to read. But if you ever had an interest in this profession, this is a book that will give you the cold, hard, unvarnished truth. Morgan is jaded, and for good reason.
Then there are the pictures. Yes, pictures. Some are lovely black and white photos of Morgan with his mother, grandmother, grandfather, and other relatives. But others are of various death scenes and they are disturbing. But you can't help yourself, you need to see. Just remember, you can't unsee it.
The book is relatively short and easy to read. Morgan has a clever turn of phrase, and you can tell the man is very intelligent. But at the same time he is bitter. His career took the best part of him and left him changed forever. For those of you who think it would be cool to be Kay Scarpetta, this is a reality check.
4 out of 5 stars