Surprise! It’s an Indie YA Horror: In the Graveyard Antemortem

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graveyard antemortem

Now I know I said that I wasn’t going to be reviewing any more self-published titles for a while, but I decided to make an exception for In the Graveyard Antemortem by Stephen Stromp.  I had reviewed his earlier novel Cracking Grace a couple of years back, and since I enjoyed it I thought I’d give this one a go too.

And I’m glad I did.

In the Graveyard Antemortem is nothing at all like Cracking Grace, but it is a super-fun mix of murder-mystery, ghost story, creepy family drama and gory hack-fest.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

*Winner of Amazon’s reader-powered Kindle Scout program.*

Seventeen-year-old Lisa Jacobs is determined to solve her father’s gruesome murder. But before she can investigate in her own small town, she is forced to spend the summer with her Uncle Clayton, the owner of Grand Hallow—a massive funeral and mortuary operation the size of a small city.

Her move to Grand Hallow only deepens the mystery as she begins to suspect the strange and chilling occurrences there are linked to her father’s death.

With the help of her acid-tongued best friend and deadbeat brother, Lisa must unravel the secrets of Grand Hallow—before it’s too late.

In the Graveyard Antemortem is a mystery/suspense novel with a healthy dash of horror.

The first thing you need to do before reading this one is suspend your disbelief.  This is meant to be entertainment, not a reflection of reality.  It took me a few chapters to realise this and early on I was thinking, “But that wouldn’t really happen!” and “Why would she behave like that?”  and so on and so forth.  After I twigged that this wasn’t meant to be an actual, reality-reflecting murder investigation type book, I suspended said disbelief and things got a whole lot more fun and engaging really fast.

It’s no secret that I love books about cemeteries and morticians and the death industry in general, and this book features an absolute cracker of a cemetery.  It’s enormous and labyrinthine and you just know there are at least a few shady goings-on hidden amongst the viewing rooms and mausoleums and morgues.  Ned, the assistant manager character who initially brings Lisa to Grand Hallow (in a hearse, obviously), became my favourite by the end, in no small part because he reminded me so much of the “Yes” guy on the Simpsons:

Tina, Lisa’s potty-mouthed friend, also became one of my favourites, simply for the colour and life that she brings to the story, as well as her forthright manner.

The story has a few distinct parts to it – or at least they felt distinct to me as I was reading.  The first focuses on the murder of Lisa’s father and the unexpected intervention of her estranged Uncle Clayton.  The second part really makes a feature of Grand Hallow and we start to see that all is not as it appears at this vast necropolis.  After that there is a section in which Lisa doesn’t know who she can trust – I found this to be quite a suspenseful part of the story with lots of action, although….the next bit blows all that to pieces and turns the story right on its head as some rather unsavoury practices are brought to light and the murder is finally solved. HA! BUT IS IT REALLY SOLVED?!  You’ll have to read to the end to tie up all the loose threads – and this final part of the story features most of the gore and horror action in a satisfyingly exuberant fight to the death.

If you are looking for a YA book that contains an absorbing mystery (well, more than one actually), a good dose of atmospheric suspense, some twists that you won’t see coming (and will probably make you go “Ew”, when you get to them), and a solid helping of supernatural tumult, then I would highly recommend giving In the Graveyard Antemortem a crack.

I received a copy from the author for review, but you can pick it up at either of these two Amazon sites:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HN4DJ9E

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01HN4DJ9E

Now don’t take this to mean that I’m reviewing self-published tomes again, because I’m not.  This was an enjoyable aberration and my policy still stands for now.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Posthumous GSQ Review: Spoiler Alert (You’re Gonna Die)…

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imageToday I have a book for those for whom the stench of a decomposing corpse fires up curiosity, rather than the vomiting reflex.  We received Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die by Korttany Finn and Jacquie Purcell from the publisher via Netgalley and found a delightful little book in Q&A format that is the perfect introduction for those wishing to scratch the itch of curiosity surrounding what happens to the dead immediately after death.  Let’s begin with the blurb from Goodreads:

One thing that you can be sure in life, is that it is going to end. How’s that for a buzzkill? A real life coroner challenged a few thousand internet strangers to ask her anything. The result is a collection of morbid and slightly embarrassing questions all about The End. Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die! will leave you with a new perspective on life. Print

The Good

imageIf you have any sort of interest in the workings of the death trade – that is, those people whose job it is to deal with the dead in any manner – then this is a concise and easy-to-read introduction that should suit you perfectly.  The questions and answers are divided into a number of categories both for ease of reference and so (I assume) you can skip over the bits that don’t interest you/gross you out/make you feel a bit weird for being too interested in them.  The book covers a pretty broad range of content, from information about the types of qualifications and work experience that you might need if you are thinking of getting into work in the post-life industry, to lesser-known methods for body disposal for those who think burial or cremation is too mundane, to what exactly goes on during an autopsy.  The book never gets too in-depth on any one topic so I wouldn’t recommend it for those who really want specifics on a certain area – although if you are looking for a book of that nature I would certainly recommend Working Stiff by Judy Melinek or Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlyn Doughty or even Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, which I read way back in that mystical time before I started blogging – but it’s certainly a thorough and accessible introduction.

The introductions to each category written by Korttany Finn are quite funny and Jacquie Purcell has mastered the art of dry humour, so you won’t get too bogged down in the sadness and unsightliness of close encounters with corpses.

The Sad

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The saddest part of my reading experience here is that I wanted it to be longer.  I wasn’t prepared for such a concise tome and so I was disappointed that it wasn’t more in-depth.  Also, although this is no fault of the authors, there were a whole lot of questions in the first section that are specific to the USA (and in some instances specific to the state in which Purcell works), which prompted the slightly irritating realisation that if I wanted to know about how things work in Australia, I would have to research it myself.  As my natural laziness prevents me from doing any such research, I will have to live with this feeling of slight irritation, until someone publishes and places in my hands a book which focuses on post-death practices in Australia.  **Newsflash! I just did a microsecond of research and found out that coroners in Australia are mostly lawyers or magistrates and one of the main roles of the coroner’s court is to investigate deaths that may have an impact on public safety (eg: bushfire related deaths) in order to improve policy and practice around these events to ensure that they are prevented or minimised in future**

The Quirkyimage

The fact that this book features answers by a coroner, as opposed to a funeral director or someone who does the work of handling corpses in some capacity, the perspective is slightly different from other books I’ve read on the topic.  It took me a few moments to realise that I wasn’t actually 100% sure what a coroner does, although I had some ideas.  Those who love crime shows like CSI will probably think they have a good idea about what a coroner does, but this book might change their minds!

Also, the book grew out of a question and answer thread run by Purcell on a parenting blog, so it’s good to know that the questions in the book were actually asked by actual people and therefore, if you have ever idly pondered similar questions, you are not as weird and morbid as you think you are.

Overall I found this to be an interesting interlude on my quest to read lots of books about death, with some fascinating information that I certainly hadn’t considered before.  If you are interested in this topic, but you’re looking for a reasonably quick read, then I’d certainly recommend you pick this one up.

alphabet soup challenge 2016

*I’m submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge*

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)

 

Scaling Mount TBR: Working Stiff…

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Well, it’s hard to believe, but I’ve just ticked another book off my teetering TBR pile – hooray!  Today I present to you Working Stiff: Two Years, Nonfiction 2015262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek.  I grabbed this one on Kindle special when it was released and then put it off and put it off until I could put it off no more, and so here we are. As this is a memoir, I’m submitting it for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the comfy armchair.

Let’s jump right on in – here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The fearless memoir of a young forensic pathologist’s rookie season as a NYC medical examiner, and the cases, hair-raising and heartbreaking and impossibly complex, that shaped her as both a physician and a mother.

Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. With her husband T.J. and their toddler Daniel holding down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation, performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines flight 587.

Lively, action-packed, and loaded with mordant wit, Working Stiff offers a firsthand account of daily life in one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies, and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on shows like CSI and Law and Order to reveal the secret story of the real morgue.

working stiff

So regular readers of this blog will know that this sort of book is right up my alley, given my intellectual interest in death and its accoutrements. I had heard great things about this book and was raring to get into it, and for the most part, it delivered on fascination and mystery. What I wasn’t quite prepared for (although why I wasn’t is anyone’s guess, given the subject matter) was the graphic detail with which Melinek approaches the oozing, splatting, deflating, bloating, leaking, mouldering and general squishery that goes hand in withered hand with the human body after death. Especially when you start chopping it up.

Be warned then, that there will be no sparing of the details for the sensitive reader. And rightly so, I suppose, although I did find myself doing some involuntary retching at a few points throughout.

The book is divided up into chapters that deal with different manners of death. The difference between the cause of death and manner of death is spelled out a number of times, as Melinek gets to grips with the paperwork side of the job. This is where the fascination factor is upped considerably as the author walks us through the variations of natural, accidental, homicidal and inconclusive causes of death. We are privy to the autopsies of those who have died from disease, through complications from surgery, gunshot wound, stabbing, burning, drowning, asphyxiation and even a few cases in which the deceased exited this world through no particular cause that the examiners could discern…..those that died of death, I suppose.

Along with all the interesting facts relating to how the examiners can determine different causes of death simply by examining the body (and testing various bits and pieces of it), I found it equally fascinating to find out the actual procedure of an autopsy and what the examiner does with all the body bits while the autopsy is going on. It boggles the mind.

Even though it is clearly stated in the blurb, for some reason I was utterly unprepared for the last section of the book, in which Melinek describes the day of the September 11 terrorist attacks and its aftermath for those involved in post-death services. I found this section to be harrowing, confronting, unsettling and generally unfathomable, as the sheer number of corpses to be identified and the unthinkable circumstances in which some of them came to be in their current condition was really driven home. This part of the book gave a whole new insight into the circumstances of those who work with death on a daily basis and how an unexpected mass casualty event can be chaos not only for those involved, but for those who must deal with the deceased under stressful and distressing circumstances. Hats off to anyone who has worked under such conditions, I say.

Overall I found this to be a deeply involving read and well worth the money to purchase. For anyone who is interested in coronial matters, I would certainly recommend giving this one a go, but be aware that no punches are pulled when the going gets gory.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 11/10

*Challenge completed – Woohoo!*

Until next time,

Bruce