I am a CSI and latent print examiner for a police department in a fairly sleepy town in southwest Florida. I started in the trace evidence department in the coroner’s office in Cleveland, Ohio. Thanks to all the TV shows people in my position are considered fascinating and glamorous, but it wasn’t so long ago that morgue workers were invariably portrayed as necrophiliac ghouls. Nothing could be further from the truth, let me assure you. Coroner’s office personnel may be just as petty, lazy, hypersensitive, gossipy and plain irritating as employees in any other walk of life, but I have never seen one who found dead bodies arousing.
Very few people at the coroner’s office (back then—now HRs departments are overwhelmed by CSI groupies) actually set out to work in forensics. Most were simply trying to use their chemistry or biology degrees and answered a want ad. Others, like secretaries and attendants (‘body snatchers’) arrived through friends and relatives–it was, after all, a civil service job with steady if not good pay and decent benefits. And job security: You could pretty much do anything in a government job without getting fired, provided you didn’t ever a) steal, or b) directly defy your supervisor. Those two things would get you canned in an instant; otherwise you could feel free to ignore the dress code, be late as much as you like, display a ‘bad attitude’ often and vociferously, and bring your dog with you to work. (I am not kidding.)
Now, of course, labs are much more rigorously maintained and staff are well-educated and professional. They’re dedicated, curious, and intelligent. However, we’re still not geniuses. We’re not NCIS’s Abby, forever twenty-five and a renowned expert in every single possible forensic science discipline, fueled only by caffeine and able to pluck out any needed clue because the scriptwriters helpfully put them in. We get tired. We stand among the blood spatter and think about what we need to pick up from the grocery store. We don’t hear the cries of the victims in our dreams. We’re not obsessed. And we don’t wear high heels or designer sweaters to crime scenes.
But for all the professionalism, the reasons why we work in this field still include the vicarious thrill of seeing a case we worked on featured on the front page or on the evening news. Then there’s the added benefit of regaling your friends with delightfully gross stories. When I went to parties, for the first time in my life, people actually wanted to talk to me. I miss a lot of things about that job, but I miss that the most. That’s why people work there, that’s why people put up with bad smells, lousy pay, and unreasonable supervisors. I hate to break it to you, but no one is there for truth and justice. We’re there because we like it.
Lisa Black’s Blunt Impact will be available April 1, featuring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean and a series of murders surrounding a skyscraper under construction in downtown Cleveland. The first to die is young, sexy concrete worker Samantha, thrown from the 23rd floor. The only witness is her 11 year old daughter Anna, nicknamed Ghost. Ghost will stop at nothing to find her mother’s killer, and Theresa will stop at nothing to keep Ghost safe.
Also, Kindle owners can find a bargain in my new book The Prague Project, written under the name Beth Cheylan. A death in West Virginia sends FBI agent Ellie Gardner and NYPD Counterterrorism lieutenant Michael Stewart on a chase across Europe as they track stolen nukes and lost Nazi gold, hoping to avert the death of millions of people. Website http://www.lisa-black.com/