But Mattie's first homicide call turns out to be for none other than Nurse Karen, and even though she saw her ex in a heated argument with the newly deceased the night before, she refuses to believe David could be a killer. Keeping mum about what she saw, Mattie is also left speechless by the sight of hunky Detective Steve Hurley. . .
From learning the ropes on her new job to sorting out her feelings about her ex and dealing with her growing attraction to Detective Hurley, Mattie's in deep water and in danger of sinking quickly, especially when she places herself dead center in the path of a desperate--yet determined--killer. . .
Praise for Annelise Ryan and Working Stiff
"Sassy, sexy, and suspenseful, Annelise Ryan knocks 'em dead in her wry and original Working Stiff." --Carolyn Hart, author of Dare to Die
"Make way for Mattie Winston, the funniest deputy coroner to cut up a corpse since, well, ever." --Laura Levine, author of Killer Cruise
"Ryan brings her professional expertise to her crisp debut." --Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Annelise Ryan
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Beth Amos
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI'm surprised by how much the inside of a dead body smells like the inside of a live one. I expected something a little more tainted, like the difference between freshly ground hamburger and that gray, one-day-away-from-the-Dumpster stuff you get in the discount section at the grocery store. Of course, all I've seen so far is the freshly dead, not the deadly dead. Apparently the deadly dead can invade your nostrils with molecules of nasty-smelling stuff that clings and burns and threatens to make you vomit for days afterward.
Or so says Izzy, and he should know since cutting up dead people is what he does for a living. And now, so do I. It's only my second day at it, but I can already tell it's going to be a real conversation stopper at cocktail parties.
At the moment, we are standing on opposite sides of an autopsy table with a woman's body laid out between us, her torso looking as if it's just been filleted. I'm sure we create a strange tableau, and not just because of the open corpse. Izzy and I are the yin and yang of body types-the Munchkin and the Amazon. The only thing we have in common is a tendency to put on the pounds: Izzy is nearly as wide as he is tall, and I'm cursed-or blessed, depending on your perspective and what century you were born in-with the perfect metabolism for surviving long periods of hunger. My body is a model of energy efficiency, burning calories the way a miser on a pension burns candles.
But that's where our commonalities end. Izzy is barely five feet tall, while I hit the six-foot mark at the age of sixteen (though I tell anyone who asks that I'm five-foot-twelve). Izzy has a dark, Mediterranean look while I'm very fair: white-blond hair, blue eyes, and a pale complexion, though not nearly as pale as the woman on our table.
Izzy reaches over, hands me the woman's liver, and asks, "So, what do you think so far?" He sounds a little concerned, which isn't surprising. This job takes a bit more getting used to than most.
"Think? I'm trying not to think." I place the liver on the scale beside me and record the result on my clipboard.
"Aw, come on. When you get right down to it, is this really all that different from what you were doing before?"
"Uh, yeah," I answer in my best duh! tone.
"How so? You used to cut people open. You handled their insides. You saw blood and guts. It's pretty much the same, no?"
Hardly. Though it's been a mere two months since I traded in the starched white lab coat from Mercy Hospital that had my name, MATTIE WINSTON, RN, embroidered across the pocket, at the moment it feels like an eternity ago. This is nothing like my work in the OR. There, the patients' bodies were always hidden behind sterile drapes and waterproof shields, the field of focus nothing more than an iodine-bronzed square of skin and whatever lay directly beneath it. Most of the time I never even saw a face. But this ... not just a face but the entire body, naked, ugly, and dead. And there's no poor-man's tan here. These people are the color of death from head to toe. It's a bit of a mental adjustment. After twelve years of working to save people's lives, I now remove their innards after they're dead and weigh them on a scale like fruit. Not exactly a move up the career ladder.
"Well, for one thing," I tell Izzy, "my clientele used to be alive."
"Live, schmive," he says, handing me a spleen. "With all that anesthesia, they might as well have been dead. They didn't talk to you, did they?"
"Well, no, but-"
"So it's really no different, is it? Here, hold this back." He directs my hand toward a pile of lower intestine and sets about severing the last few connections. "I don't think it's this job that's bothering you. I think you miss Dr. Wonderful."
Dr. Wonderful is Dr. David Winston, who is not only chief of surgery at Mercy Hospital but also my husband, at least until I get the divorce papers filed.
"You do miss him, don't you?" Izzy persists.
"No, I don't."
"Not even the sex?"
"There's more to life than sex." I utter this with great nonchalance despite the fact that Izzy has hit a sore spot. During the last few months of my marriage, sex ranked just below plucking my eyebrows and cleaning out the toilet bowl on my list of things to do. Now that I no longer have the option-unless I want to don some stilettos and a tube top and cruise the streets-my libido seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.
Izzy shakes his head in wonder as he hands me a kidney. "See, that's the difference between men and women. Men, we always miss the sex."
"Good," I say bitterly. "I hope David is missing it like crazy."
"It doesn't look like he's missing it at all."
My heart does a funny beat, almost as if it's echoing the uh-oh that I'm thinking. I look over at Izzy but he's studiously avoiding any eye contact. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
He sighs and shakes his head.
"Do you know something, Izzy? If you do, spit it out."
"You mean you haven't seen the woman who's been coming over to your ... to David's house the past few nights?"
His quick correction stings, but not as much as his information does. I've been consoling myself ever since the split-up with an image of David pining away for me ... regretful, sad, and lonely. The only communication we've had since I left is one long rambling, remorseful note, in which David apologized exactly nine times and swore his undying devotion to me. Izzy's suggestion that my side of the marital bed had barely grown cold before someone else moved in to heat it up-and I have a pretty good idea who that someone else is-brings tears to my eyes.
"No, I haven't seen any woman," I tell him, struggling for a tone of casual indifference. "But that's because I haven't looked. It doesn't matter anymore. I don't care what ... or who David does anymore."
I can tell from Izzy's tone that he isn't buying it, but I'm determined not to ask him what I'm dying to know. We begin taking sections from the organs we've removed, Izzy doing the slicing and dicing, me placing the carved pieces into specimen bottles as an awkward silence stretches between us. As soon as we are finished with each organ, I place it back inside the body cavity. After several minutes of this I finally cave in.
"All right, you win. Tell me. Was it her?"
He shrugs. "I've never met her. What does she look like?"
His question hurls me back some two months in time and the memory, as always, triggers a flush of humiliation. Back then, David and I both worked in the OR at the local hospital. Despite working in the same place, we rarely did cases together, agreeing that it was wise to try to separate our professional lives from our private ones so the dynamics of one wouldn't interfere with the intimacy of the other. That's the story I bought into, anyway, though since then I've wondered if David's motivation was something else entirely.
Things came to a head on a day when David had a heavy load of regular surgeries coupled with several emergency cases. He called late in the evening to say he still had one more case to do and that he planned to crash at the hospital for the night. It was something he'd done before-usually because he had an unstable patient he was worried about-so it didn't raise any alarms with me.
Knowing how much he hated hospital food, I threw together a goody basket for him: some munchies for later that night and some fruit and muffins for in the morning. I didn't call to tell him I was coming because I figured he'd already be in the middle of his surgery. Besides, I wanted to surprise him.
He was surprised, all right, but not half as much as I was when I found the surgical area dark, quiet, and apparently deserted except for a dim light emanating from a small operating room at the end of the hall. Inside the room I found David with Karen Owenby, one of the other surgery nurses. David was leaning back against an OR table, his scrub pants down around his ankles, a look of ecstasy stamped on his face. Karen was kneeling in front of him, wholeheartedly vying for the title of head nurse.
As the image sears its way across my brain for the millionth time, I squeeze my eyes closed in anger.
"Is she really that ugly?" Izzy asks, glancing at the expression on my face.
"Uglier," I tell him. "She has horns growing out of her head and snakes for hair."
Izzy chuckles. "You know what you need?"
"For Richard Gere to fall madly in love with me and be my gigolo?"
"No, you need some excitement."
Apparently catching my husband taking his oral exam in the OR isn't excitement enough.
"Yep," Izzy says with a decisive nod. "You just need a little excitement. After all, isn't that what drew you to medicine? The life-and-death pace, the high emotional stakes, the drama?"
We are done with our sampling and the woman's organs are all back in her body, though not in any kind of order. I stare at them a moment, thinking they vaguely resemble that package of stuff you find hidden behind the ass flap on a turkey. It's a definite offense to my surgical sensibilities and I have to remind myself that it doesn't matter-the woman is dead.
"I think I've had quite enough drama for one lifetime," I tell him.
"No way. You're an adrenaline junkie. You thrive on excitement. That's why you liked working at the hospital." He steps down from the stool he has to use in order to reach the table, kicks it toward the woman's head, and climbs up again. Then he positions his scalpel just above her right ear.
"There's really not that much adrenaline in the OR," I argue. "In fact, it's one of the tamer areas of medicine, orderly and controlled."
"True, but you were never happy in the OR. The place where you were happy was the ER. You should have stayed there."
"I liked the OR just fine," I argue.
He responds with a look that tells me the alarm on his bullshit detector is screeching. And I have to admit, he's right. The OR was okay, but I loved working the ER. I loved the surprise of never knowing what might come through the door next. I loved working as part of a synchronized team, rushing against the clock in an effort to save a life that hung on the brink. I loved the people, the pace, and even the occasional messiness of it all. The only reason I'd left it for the OR was so I could be closer to David.
Well, that and the infamous nipple incident.
"Okay," I concede. "Maybe I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie."
"And like any junkie, if you don't get a fix from time to time, you get edgy and irritable."
"I'm pretty sure that's PMS, Izzy."
"So I have an idea," he says, ignoring my brilliant rejoinder. Having sliced across the top of the woman's head from one ear to the other, he now grabs the front edge of this incision and pulls the entire scalp forward, exposing the skull. It is shiny and white except for a large clot of blood that clings to the right temporal lobe. From the X-rays we did earlier, I know that beneath that clot we'll find pieces of broken bone and an indentation in the skull that's roughly the same size and shape as a hammer-the weapon her drunken, jealous husband used to kill her.
Izzy pauses to snap a few pictures with the digital camera, and then says, "Part of my job is determining the cause and manner of any suspicious deaths in the county, and only part of that is gleaned from the autopsy. There's also investigative work that needs to be done at the scene of the death and afterward."
He sets the camera aside and folds his arms over his chest. "You know, your position here can go one of two ways. You can keep working as a morgue assistant, which is basically what you're doing now, or you can function as a deputy coroner, which combines the morgue duties with investigative work. My last assistant had no training in forensics and no interest in learning it. He simply wanted to do his job and get out of here."
"I can't imagine why," I mutter, eyeing the body before us.
"But you have an analytical mind and a strong curiosity. With a little training, you'd make a great investigator. And frankly, I could use the help. I think you should give it a try, go out with me a time or two and see what it's like."
"You make it sound like a date."
He scoffs. "Yeah, like you would know."
I scowl at him. "Give me a break. It's only been two months."
"And you've spent every minute of it hibernating in your cave."
"I am not."
"No? Then tell me how many pints of Ben & Jerry's you've polished off in the past two weeks."
"Oh sure, make me measure in pints so the number will sound worse than it is."
"Okay," he says, arching one eyebrow at me. "Have it your way. Tell me how many gallons of Ben & Jerry's you've polished off in the past two weeks."
"Bite me, Itsy."
There's one other thing Izzy and I have in common-a fondness for nicknames. Izzy's real name is Izthak Rybarceski, a mouthful of syllables that even the most nimble linguists tend to stumble over. Hence the nickname, though even that gives him trouble at times. Because of his size there are some who insist on pronouncing it as Itsy, something that drives him up the wall.
For me the problem is just a general loathing of my real name. I don't know what the hell my mother was thinking when she chose it and even she has never used it. All my life I've been Mattie-the only place where my real name can be found is on my birth certificate-and that's fine by me. Outside of my family, there are only a handful of people who know my real name, Izzy being one of them. So I have to be careful. If I pick on his name too much, he might turn the tables on me.
"I don't think I'd make a very good investigator," I tell him, hoping to divert his attention away from my insult.
"Sure you would. You're a natural. You're nosy as hell."
Now there's a bullet item I can't wait to put on my résumé.
"At least give it a try," he says with a sigh.
"But I don't know the first thing about crime scene investigation. Hell, I've only been doing this for two days."
"You'll learn. Just like you're learning here. Just like you learned when you started working in the OR. I'll send you to some seminars and training programs. You'll catch on."
I think about what he's suggesting. We live in Sorenson, a small town in Wisconsin where the crime rate is low, longevity is high, and the obits frequently tell of octogenarians who die "unexpectedly." Even with what might come in from the surrounding areas, which is mostly villages and farmland, I can't imagine us getting that much business. After all, this is Wisconsin, the land of cheese, brown-eyed cows, apple-cheeked people, and old-fashioned values. The only reason we have a medical examiner in Sorenson is because Izzy happens to live here and we are the biggest city within a hundred-mile radius, which isn't saying much, given that our population is only eleven thousand. So how often is a "suspicious" death going to occur? Still ...
I'm about to argue the point one more time when Izzy says, "Please? Will you just give it a try? For me?"
Damn. His pleading face reminds me of what a good friend he's been to me, especially lately. I owe him.
"Okay, you win. I'll give it a shot."
"Excellent!" he says. "Though perhaps a bad choice of words for our line of business." He wiggles his eyebrows at me and I have to stifle a laugh, though not at his corny joke. At fifty-something, Izzy suffers from that wooly caterpillar thing that strikes so many men as they age. The hairs in his eyebrows are longer than many of those on his head, though there are a few in his ears and nose that look like they might catch up.
Moments later, my humor is forgotten as I place Ingrid Swenson's brain on my scale.
Chapter TwoI'm sitting in the small cottage I call home, reflecting on day number two of my new job. Invariably, my thoughts drift to David and I wonder if Karen Owenby is the woman Izzy saw visiting him. The mere mention of her name fills my mind with murderous thoughts, yet as bitter as my feelings toward Karen are, they're nothing compared to what I feel toward David. His betrayal devastated me.
After catching him in the act on that fateful night, I drove home, threw together some clothes, and fled the house so I wouldn't have to face him again. But I didn't know where to go. I briefly considered heading to my mother's house, but realized that would be a big mistake. My mother is a lifelong prognosticator of gloom and doom, a modern-day Nostradamus. Five minutes with her can induce a severe case of depression in me even when I go into it on the highest of highs. And on the night in question, I was already as low as I cared to go.
In addition to her role as the Great Depressor, Mom is also a professional hypochondriac. She's a full-fledged, card-carrying, many-times-honored member of the Disease of the Month Club and revels in sharing her various aches, pains, and possible terminal diseases with David and me. She has a collection of medical reference books at home that the Harvard Medical School would envy, and getting a doctor into the family has been the pinnacle of her existence. I knew she'd never forgive me for letting David go. Nope, Mom was definitely out of the question.
Excerpted from Working Stiff by Annelise Ryan Copyright © 2009 by Beth Amos. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I LOVED THIS BOOK. THIS WAS MY FIRST BOOK BY THIS AUTHOR, BUT IT WON'T BE MY LAST. THE CHARACTER MATTIE WINSTON WILL DRAW YOU IN FROM THE FIRST PAGE, AND HAVE YOU ROOTING HER ON IN THE LAST PAGES. THE SUSPENSE, ACTION, AND ROMANCE IS GREAT. I LOVED EVERY TWIST AND TURN. THIS WAS A WELL WRITTEN MYSTERY AND I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT TO ALL. ENJOY.......
I finished reading this mystery and found myself wanting to read the second (Scared Stiff) one right away. It is a good start to what looks to be a good series.
Getting this series. Loving the characters and plots. 280 pages.
She thought she had the perfect marriage and perfect job working at the same hospital as her husband Dr. David Winston as he was a surgeon and she is a surgeon's nurse. However Mattie Winston's world collapsed when she caught him with another nurse Karen Owenby. Without a word, she rushes home, packs her bags, and visits her best friend medical examiner Izzy, who gives her a home in his guest cottage and hires her; training her to be a deputy coroner. When Mattie learns that Karen is at the home she once shared with David, she cannot stop herself from peaking through a window. What she observes horrifies her as the pair argues heatedly until David throttles her. Later that same night, Izzy and Mattie are called to a homicide scene where a female corpse has two bullets in her head. The victim is Karen. Suspicion falls rightfully on David, but though she is angry and acrimonious with him and knows what she saw at their house, Mattie refuses to believe he would kill anyone. A second murder implicates David further as Detective Steve Hurley finds evidence hanging Mattie's soon to be ex at a time the cop and the trainee are attracted to one another and he realizes she should be a prime suspect as a betrayed wife. The story line is fast-paced from the moment that Mattie realizes her spouse is a womanizing cheat, but not a killer and never slows down as the heroine risks her life (to the chagrin of her boss and the detective) to catch the culprit. Fascinatingly though she is a WORKING STIFF as an apprentice deputy coroner, the enjoyable story line reads in may ways like an amateur sleuth as she has little experience on homicide investigations. Fans will enjoy Annelise Ryan's fun investigative tale, the opening act of a new series. Harriet Klausner
I had a very hard time putting this book down ... Mattie and all her friends made it very enjoyable
A very amusing read. Thoroughly enjoyable and looking forward to more from this author.
This book has everything. Drama, humor, mystery, romance, its a real page turner!
Good read, kept you guessing. Did not expect the ending until the very end which is good.
Loved the book.Being an R .N I especially enjoyed the shop talk.To decrease on idenity theft nurses are now finger printed.
This book was good, considering this is the author's first one. I really enjoyed the character development, and it has some really funny moments. The middle of the book was a little slow, but the last 100 or so pages were very exciting. The mystery was predictable, but not everyone is John Grisham! I look forward to more stories about Mattie -- we need to knwo more about the infamous nipple incident!
I really enjoyed this book. Mattie seems to find trouble just about everywhere she goes. I am looking forward to reading the other books written by this author. Ms. Ryan writes with such interest, it is hard to put the book down. It is nice to read a mystery, or any book that has good content without a lot of graphic sex. I will definitely recommend this book as a good read.
I totally enjoyed this book. Mattie is a likeable character who may get into some predicaments but she is not stupid. The reactions she has to circumstances is real and believable. The other characters in the book are likeable, especially the detective who hopefully shows up in the other books. The mystery was one that kept me guessing with plenty of twists that kept me turning the pages. I will definitely read the rest of this series.
I read lots of mysteries. My favorites being women as the detective/investigator. This series looks to be a new interest for me. Really enjoyed the first one, looking forward to more of Mattie Winstons adventures. She seems to be a little clumsy at times and gets herself in some silly predicaments, but overall, I really enjoy her adventurous nature.
Great series. I am on the third book now and have a hard time putting it down. Highly recommend. The touches of comedy help move the story along. Great characters.
Loved reading these books, can't wait to read more about mattie and hurley!
I really enjoyed this book. It goes from serious to Keystone Cops in one paragraph. I had many a good laugh in reading. Nice to see I'm not the only one not named Grace for a reason.
I felt like I ran into a more sophisticated Stephanie Plum with all the eating and mishaps by Mattie Winston. Mattie, a nurse, has joined the medical examiner's team, and the adventures Mattie encounters remind me of Janet Evanovich's writing. Wisconsin replaces New Jersey, and the medical profession replaces bounty hunting in this hilarious series. Annelise Ryan saunters into the autopsy lab with ease and utilitizes expertise in resolving a murder. I love the small kitten, Rubbish, and would love to catch and hug him. Of course, that euphoria could extend to Detective Steve Hurley. This story does not fall 100% under a cozy mystery, but not a hard-core thriller.
Could get passed the 3 page because of the language.
I was really impressed with this book as a series opener It was so well-written and characters were so well developed that it reads more like a later book in the series. Nice job. I am ready to read more. Stephanie Clanahan
HIGHLY RECOMMEND! Will be reading more books by this author. Very well written.
fun reading for anyone who likes it light and fun
While the characters and plot are fine, the main character, Matti, is dumber than the worst Lucy actions from an I Love Lucy episode. I finished 995 out of 1000 books but had to force myself to finish this. Plus confusing run–on into what is a sales pitch for the next book. Oh, and hunky man comments thruout that sounded like a thirteen year old girl wrote them.