- Title: Aftershock
- Series: Dr. Jessie Teska Mystery #2
- Author: Judy Melinek & T. J. Mitchell
- Genre: Medical Fiction, Medical Thriller, Forensic Fiction
- Where to buy: Harlequin
- Would I recommend: Absolutely!
When an earthquake strikes San Francisco, forensics expert Jessie Teska faces her biggest threat yet in this explosive new mystery from the New York Times bestselling authors of Working Stiff and First Cut.
At first glance, the death appears to be an accident. The body is located on a construction site under what looks like a fallen load of pipe. But when Dr. Jessie Teska arrives on the scene, she notices the tell-tale signs of a staged death. The victim has been murdered. A rising star in the San Francisco forensics world, Jessie is ready to unravel the case, help bring the murderer to justice, and prevent him from potentially striking again.
But when a major earthquake strikes San Francisco right at Halloween, Jessie and the rest of the city are left reeling. And even if she emerges from the rubble, there’s no guaranteeing she’ll make it out alive.
With their trademark blend of propulsive prose, deft plotting and mordant humor, this electrifying new installment in the Jessie Teska Mystery series offers the highest stakes yet.
A steel band cover of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” makes for a lousy way to lurch awake. Couple of months back, some clown of a coworker got ahold of my cell phone while I was busy in the autopsy suite, and reprogrammed the ringtone for incoming calls from the Medical Examiner Operations and Investigation Dispatch Communications Center. I keep forgetting to fix it.
I reached across my bedmate to the only table in the tiny room and managed to squelch it before the plinking got past five or six bars, but that was more than enough to wake him.
“Time is it?” Anup slurred.
“God, Jessie,” he said, and pulled a pillow over his head. I planted a nice warm kiss on the back of his neck.
Donna Griello from the night shift was on the phone. “Good morning, Dr. Teska,” she said.
“Okay, Donna,” I whispered. “What do we got and where are we going?”
I didn’t need the GPS navigation from my one extravagance in this world, the BMW 235i that I had brought along when I moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco, because muscle memory took me there. The death scene was right on my old commute—a straight shot from the Outer Richmond District, along the edge of Golden Gate Park, then the wiggle down to SoMa, the broad, flat neighborhood south of Market Street. The blue lights were flashing on the corner of Sixth Street and Folsom, just a couple of blocks shy of the Hall of Justice. I used to perform autopsies in the bowels of the Hall, before the boss, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Howe, moved the whole operation to his purpose-built dream morgue, way out in Hunters Point. Along the way, Howe made me his deputy chief. The promotion came with a raise, an office, and a ficus, but I hadn’t sought it and it wasn’t welcome—I was only a year and change on the job and didn’t have the experience to be deputy chief in a big city. Howe needed someone to do it, though. So the gold badge and all its headaches went to me.
The death scene address Donna had given me over the phone was a construction site. From the outside, I couldn’t tell how big. They’d built a temporary sidewalk covered in plywood, and posted an artist’s rendition of a gleaming glass tower, crusted in niches and crenellations and funky angles, dubbed SoMa Centre.
I double-parked behind a police car and walked the plankway between a blind fence and a line of pickup trucks with union bumper stickers. The men in them eyed me with either suspicion or practiced blankness while they waited for their job site to reopen. A beat cop kept vigil at the head of the line. He took my name and badge number, logged me in, and lifted the yellow tape. He pointed to a wooden crate. It was full of construction hard hats.
“Mandatory,” he said.
“You aren’t wearing one,” I griped.
“I’m not going in there, either.”
“Good for you. Give me a light over here.”
I sorted through the helmets under the cop’s flashlight beam. Sizes large, extra large, medium. I am a woman, five feet five inches, a hundred thirty-four pounds, and not especially husky of skull. I certainly wasn’t husky enough to fill out a helmet spec’d for your average male ironworker, which seemed to be all that was on offer.
I tried out a medium. Even when I cinched the plastic headband all the way, the hard hat swallowed my sorry little blond noggin.
“Yeah, laugh it up, Officer,” I said, while he did.
“Sorry, Doc. You look like a kid playing soldier!”
“Laugh it up,” I said again, because I wasn’t equipped, at that hour, to be clever.
Not all the workers were stuck outside in their pickups. A few men in hard hats stood around, waiting for work to get going. They shied away from me, in my medical examiner windbreaker, polyester slacks, and sensible shoes, like I was the angel of death collecting on a debt.
I found Donna. She’s hard to miss: more than six feet tall, eyes and beak like a hawk. Her hard hat fit just fine. She was leaning against the medical examiner removals van with Cameron Blake, her partner 2578—our bureaucratic shorthand for death scene investigators—on the night shift. Cam is round-faced and ruddy, half a foot shorter than Donna but just as brawny. He greeted me.
“Any coffee?” I said.
“The site superintendent says it’s brewing. First shift is just getting here. That’s how come they found the body. You want to talk to him?”
“Let’s find out what the dead guy has to say first.”
Donna chuckled in a dark way. “Just you wait and see, Doc.”
Excerpted from Aftershock by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell, copyright © 2021 by Dr. Judy Melinek and Thomas J. Mitchell. Published by Hanover Square Press.
I’ve previously read and reviewed Melinek and Mitchell’s first Jessie Teska mystery, First Cut. When I was offered the opportunity to participate in the Aftershock blog tour, I jumped on it. I do love a good forensic mystery. I devour books by Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Tess Gerritsen, Jefferson Bass. Were I going back to school, I might go into forensic science. That’s how fascinating I find the whole field.
The book opens when Jessie, recently promoted to deputy chief, is called to the scene of what appears to be a construction accident – a man crushed by a load of falling pipe. But what she’s seeing doesn’t match up with what allegedly happened, and she isn’t going to let it lie. The deceased turns out to be a big-name architect who made himself a nuisance on the site, and there are a lot of people who could have wanted him dead. As she’s trying to find evidence to support her theory that this was a homicide, San Francisco is hit by a big earthquake, and the medical examiner’s office is up to its eyeballs in corpses.
Jessie isn’t one who goes along to get along. She has a history with the investigating officer, and she doesn’t trust that he’s going to do his job and follow up on what she’s telling him. So she does her own sleuthing, putting herself in harm’s way as someone doesn’t want the truth to come out.
I like Jessie. She is a take-no-crap woman doing a tough job and doing it well. Sometimes she makes impulsive decisions that don’t always work out, and I can relate to that. I’ve said that “it seemed like a good idea at the time” will be my epitaph.
Melinek and Mitchell have once again done a bang-up job of writing an excellent procedural that just sucks you in. I love the details of the activity in the morgue. (I took a Law and Medicine class in law school – we got to observe autopsies. It was cool! I’m weird like that.) I used to be a prosecutor, so the details of the court hearings remind me of those days. And there were enough changes of direction to keep me guessing as to who the killer was almost up until the big reveal.
Another thorougly enjoyable read, and I look forward to more Jessie Teska.
Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin for the advance reader copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.
Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell are the New York Times bestselling co-authors of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, and the novel First Cut. Dr. Melinek studied at Harvard and UCLA, was a medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. T.J. Mitchell, her husband, is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad to their children.
- Judy: @drjudymelinek