Grisly true-life cases from the longtime career of a veteran coroner.
In his previous books, Bay Area writer Bateson (The Last and Greatest Battle: Finding the Will, Commitment, and Strategy to End Military Suicides, 2015) explored the act and aftermath of suicides. Here, he presents a profile of Ken Holmes, whom he’d met in 2010 after interviewing him for a book on Golden Gate bridge jumpers. Holmes spent nearly four decades working in the Marin County coroner’s office investigating not just suicides, but also countless unsolved homicides as well as natural, accidental, and undetermined deaths. Bateson reviewed 800 files in his research, and the cases he meticulously describes vividly represent Holmes’ long-standing tenure as a forensic professional. Each situation is riveting and complex. Holmes remarks that while a coroner’s purpose is to “find answers for the living,” it is the noncelebrity cases—he has handled the deaths of Jerry Garcia, Tupac Shakur, and the Trailside Killer, among others—that emerge as the most memorable, some drawn out over multiple decades. Through interviews, Bateson retraces the retired coroner’s history from his first homicide report through his years of learning the forensic skills of the trade; particularly compelling chapters focus on Holmes’ stint in San Quentin prison and the phenomenon of Golden Gate bridge suicides. Throughout the book, the author spotlights each gory detail with macabre precision. Holmes intimately describes the inescapable odor of a decaying corpse (“the odor stays with you for days no matter how many times you shower”), the processes of lividity, rigor mortis, and autopsies, the atrocities of child abuse, and the deadly consequences of autoerotic asphyxiation. These factual narratives magnify the work and the resolve necessary to bring closure to violent, unjust, suspicious, or unresolved deaths. They also make for supremely entertaining reading material for anyone with a dark curiosity in forensic science.
A fascinating and wildly informative dive into the mysterious world of death and decay.