Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Coroner's Journal

Coroner's Journal by Louis Cataldie
trade paperback, 352 pages
Penguin, 2007
ISBN-13: 9780425213551

From the Publisher
During Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Louis Cataldie remained in New Orleans in dangerous and often unbearable conditions to attend to the sick, the injured-and the dead. As chief coroner of Baton Rouge, tending to the dead is Cataldie's job. A little town with big-city problems, Baton Rouge means "Red Stick"-and lives up to its bloody name. Cataldie has faced unusual and disturbing cases, from tracking three serial killers on the loose simultaneously while working the scene of a Malvo/ Muhammad Beltway Sniper shooting, to helping apprehend Baton Rouge serial killer Derrick Todd Lee in a controversial case that was featured in an ABC Primetime Live special with Diane Sawyer and Patricia Cornwell.
Cataldie's maverick ways have made him a favorite target of the media, but he offers no apologies, and speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves. Graphic and frank, this is his unique, up-close look at his life spent stalking death in the Deep South. (Patricia Cornwell wrote the foreword.
My thoughts:

Your interest in reading about a coroners various cases may influence how much you appreciate this book. It is truly feels as if it is written like a journal and thus the entries come off as matter-of-fact, depressing, and often hopeless. The cases are all briefly presented. There seems to be an underlying assumption that the reader will know procedural steps of a coroner. Adding to that is the fact that there is no resolution to many of the cases included. If you are hoping for an informational book about what a coroner does and how he does it, you may want to look for another book. The first part of the book where Dr. Cataldie was working as the coroner after Hurricane Katrina while heartbreaking is very incomplete. It really reads like bits and pieces were directly taken from his journal entries. Although I appreciated some of his observations and honesty, actually the quality of the writing itself may be what turned me off to the book. This should be required reading for someone was considering a career with or as a medical examiner. It was simply too depressing for me and became hard to finish. So-So - for me


So while the press deserves credit for arriving at the disaster scene before the federal government did, I nonetheless fault the national media for not following up more aggressively on any of these rumors. Too often they simply accepted rumor as fact. As I told one reporter, "It's not consistent with the highest standards of journalism." In total, ten corpses were recovered from the Louisiana Superdome - contrary to urban legend, not one was a homicide. pg. 12

...I've kept a personal journal, starting in the coroner's office of East Baton Rouge Parish in 1993. I wrote whenever it struck me, jotting notes in the field and later sketching images on a small pad as I remembered them. These were not sketches of any forensic value, but nuances that stayed with me for some reason. I wrote in my journal mostly at night, especially after a particularly troubling autopsy or a visit to an unsettling crime scene, when neither a soft pillow nor the comfort of DeAnn, my loving wife and partner, could induce slumber. The journal is about how the lives - and untimely deaths - of the people I investigated crossed my path, and I tried to bring order and integrity to the aftermath. pg. 17

As coroner, I have served as the state's official witness to the worst that humanity has to offer. I've investigated some of the most despicable crimes and violent deaths imaginable.....Nothing....can compare to the sheer devastation of Katrina and Rita. pg. 18

I don't think little snippets on CSI really make much of an impact on criminals' behavior. For one thing, criminals don't understand the foundation of the science of forensics and therefore tend to make stupid mistakes. pg. 62

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I picked this up off the new releases shelf at the library a couple weeks ago. This is the first review I've seen of it and I'm glad to see it. I was on the fence about returning it unread (I just don't have time for everything) and this pushes it over.