A woman who knows far more than most about what lies beyond death must use her specific skill set to recover the body of a childhood friend.
This highbrow thriller by Griner (Creative Writing/Univ. of Louisville; The German Woman, 2009, etc.) aims to mimic Cormac McCarthy’s severe (and quotation mark–shunning) style but ultimately falls somewhere between the gruesome science of Mary Roach and the grim despair of Joe Connelly’s Bringing Out the Dead (1998). The narrator is Elena Kelly, a coroner’s assistant in Danville, Kentucky, who slowly reveals her sins even as she attempts to right a wrong. When Lia Stefanini, her best friend from childhood, dies in a car accident—and is the victim of mistaken identity to boot—Elena promises Lia’s mother that she'll recover her body so she can be properly put to rest. It turns out that Elena once had a lucrative trade in “corpse wrangling”—stealing bits and pieces of the human body to sell to unethical organ traders and the like. “Tibias first, then the fibula, long and lean and lucrative, and the spine, the spine, the golden spine, which, as you ran your fingers up the knobs of some stray companion, making your temporary bedmate shiver, made it nearly impossible not to calculate cost and profit, or how you’d peel their skin and bag it, since those long, smoked-salmon colored strips of skin came at such a premium, $1,000 per square foot,” Griner writes. Most of the novel plays out this way, with lyrical descriptions of the grotesque and the short, sharp shock of violence punctuating the scenes. Eventually Elena hooks up with Amed, a charming but ultimately unethical morgue worker, who leads her finally to the book’s proper villain. It’s an ugly concept that attempts to fold reportage into poetry. The result here is too dry to be pulp and too cartoonish for its literary aspirations.
A near miss about the secret underground of body brokers.