The Coroner By Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

Sep 22, 2018 | 2018 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Sandra Murphy
& Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

This week we have a review of The Coroner by Jennifer Graeser Dornbush, who has also written extensively for TV. We also have a very interesting guest post by Jennifer where she shares about some of the inspiration for her character-the fact that her father was a medical examiner. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of The Coroner, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.

The Coroner: By Jennifer Graeser Dornbush
Review by Sandra Murphy

Emily Hartford is in her third year of surgical residency and recently engaged to another med student. They hardly have time to see each other considering their schedules and taking every opportunity to observe other surgeries.

Her father is the local medical examiner in Freeport, Michigan. She used to get along with him so well that he let her observe his post-mortems. Then her mother died, and he retreated into his own grief and left her on her own.

Now Emily has received a phone call to return home. Her father’s had a massive heart attack. She’s not prepared for seeing him in a hospital bed, looking small and helpless. There are a lot of surprises in store. It’s apparent that he’ll need long term care and probably won’t ever be able to work again—apparent to everyone but him. He plans on being back at work in a few days. mystery book cover

In the meantime, a senator’s teenage daughter has died, and there’s no medical examiner to find the cause, unless Emily is willing to step in. Despite her protests, she’s a surgeon now, he says she’ll remember how it’s done and find the answers the family needs.

The sheriff is Nick, Emily’s high school boyfriend. Misunderstandings between them let him think she’d disappeared from his life without explanation. Now they have to work together to find the cause of the teen’s death. When it’s found to be murder, Emily is pulled deeper into the town’s life—much to the dismay of her fiancé, who until then, had chosen surgeries over visits with her.

The twists and turns in the investigation, Emily’s need to find out just how her mother died, her relationship with her fiancé and renewing ties with Nick, plus her relationship with her father, all add up to a page-turner of a book. Readers will hope to read more about Emily and Nick in future books although it’s not clear if this is a stand-alone or the first in a series, although her Amazon bio hints at a series. I’m hoping for a series.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the Arch in St. Louis Missouri. She writes about eco-friendly topics, pets and wildlife for magazines and reviews mysteries and thrillers for KRL. A collection of her short stories, published by Untreed Reads, From Hay to Eternity: Ten Tales of Crime and Deception can be found at all the usual outlets. Each one is a little weird and all have a twist you won’t see coming.

Growing Up With The Dead

A daughter of death investigator explains how bodies in her basement shaped her career as a Hollywood writer and novelist.

By Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

Long before American television was saturated with CSI and Forensic Files, I was living my own weekly CSI adventure with my family in northern Michigan. My father was a medical examiner for three counties, and my mother assisted as his office manager. They ran the office out of our home because the county was underfunded and could not provide him with one.

Dad performed autopsies at the small county hospital morgue, but all the records, paperwork, and photographs were kept in our family office. Samples of blood and body tissue were stored in a basement freezer, right under the pork chops and frozen beans like some B-rated horror flick. Dinnertime conversations often revolved around the case of the week. “Let me tell you about an interesting suicide I saw today,” my dad would say. “Oh, and pass the corn, please.”

mystery author

Jennifer Graesar Dornbush

Dad investigated an average of 100 deaths a year. Accidents, suicides, natural deaths, and scores of drunk driving fatalities filled Dad’s days and nights and kept food in the cupboards and clothes on our backs. During the twenty-three years Dad worked in forensics, I had a hands-on education in death investigation. It was as natural as brushing my teeth.

One Sunday after church, when I was eight, my father toted us all over to the local airstrip. A small plane had crashed the night before and Dad wanted to return to the scene in daylight to scour the area for any remaining body pieces. My younger sister and I paired up to help him. Outfitted in our Sunday best, we roamed the damp field that early spring morning in search of brain matter and skullcap. And yes, we found some.

Once I reach pre-adolescence, I was painfully aware how different my family was from other families. I felt the need to hide what my father did. We were living in a pre-CSI generation before TV glamorized forensics. I didn’t know a single other person my age whose father kept body bags in his truck and smelled like formaldehyde. Dad’s work was one more reason my peers might reject me. Ironically, my friends found the family business intriguing and to this day, I can’t remember a single time I was teased about what my father did for a living. (At least not in front of my back.)

One of the first times I remember my home life intersecting with my social life was third grade. A new friend came over to play in our fort in the barn loft and soon became intrigued by a 55-gallon barrel. She wanted to take a look inside, despite my strong discouragement. Eventually, she weaseled the truth out of me. I told her, “There’s a man’s leg in that barrel.” It thrilled her. I cowered as she peeled back that plastic and cross section of thigh stared back at both of us.

By my senior year of high school, I was a little more comfortable about letting people into the family business. My friends and I hosted a Halloween party for our senior class on our twenty acres of farm land. We designed a haunted hunt through the fields and woods with a scary viewing of Sam, our family skeleton, who was a real human skeleton that a doctor friend of my dad’s bequeathed him. Sam lived in our barn, and Dad stuck a cigarette between his teeth. He teased that Sam’s demise was lung cancer—one of his ploys to prevent us from taking on the deadly habit.

During my freshman year of college, my best friend who was studying to be a nurse, would often assist my dad with his autopsies. Her time in the morgue was superb training for a nursing career. One weekend I came home from college to find my friend sitting on the front porch with several buckets of decaying human parts soaking in bleach. My dad had employed her to scrape the bones clean of flesh for a case he was investigating. After the bones were clean, they laid the skeletal remains on the lawn and reconstructed the body to figure out what pieces were missing.

Over time, I embraced my unconventional childhood. In fact, I feel quite blessed to have had Quincy for a father and a doting, self-confident mother who put up with his homegrown experiments in forensic science. (Mom surely must have foreshadowed their future on their first date when Dad took her to see his cadaver in medical school.)

When I started writing, I began to tap into my past and discovered that I was drawn to crime stories – from Hitchcock to Fargo to Breaking Bad to Bones. Writing crime challenged me in ways others genres could not. It is an intense workout for both the left and right sides of your brain. The discovery that I loved this genre surprised me because, until this point, I was not a CSI fan and rarely read crime novels. Now, suddenly, I felt deeply connected to my past. And I wanted more! I wanted to know everything. I hounded Dad and Mom with phone calls, e-mails, and questions. I read books, articles, blogs! Mine was a literary bloodlust. To satiate it, I attended the Forensic Science Academy.

From this experience my non-fiction book, Forensic Speak, was born and continues to be used by writers, professors, and law enforcement alike. I began speaking about forensics to empower other storytellers with the treasure trove of experiences and knowledge from those decades of death investigation in my family’s home.

I kept writing, studying, and drawing from my past. The Coroner novel is one result of that. And there are many more to come! So, please come join me for a forensic family’s dinnertime. Take a seat. Pass the corn. And enjoy a taste from the coroner daughter’s table.

To enter to win a copy of Toucan Keep a Secret, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “coroner,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 8, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters.

Use this link to purchase the book & a portion goes to help support KRL & indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy:

You can also use this link to purchase the book on Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:

Jennifer Dornbush is a screenwriter, author, speaker and forensic specialist. She has several crime drama series in development and recently adapted a YA novel for film. She also penned the film and novel, God Bless the Broken Road.
As a forensic specialist she consults on TV shows and has authored Forensic Speak: How To Write Realistic Crime Dramas, and her first mystery novel, The Coroner, released in 2018.
Jennifer frequently speaks on writing crime fiction for screen, forensic fundamentals, and death investigation. Jennifer hosts webinars on writing through Writer’s Digest; and has collaborated with The Writers Store and Script Magazine to produce a video on crime writing for writers. She also hosts a YouTube channel: Forensic Fridays. You can learn more on her website.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases using those links. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. sounds great !

  2. Not all of us are cut out to have a job like your Dad’s. He must have been a very special guy. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of Toucan Keep a Secret! crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com

  3. I would really like to read “The Coroner”, sounds like a fascinating book.

  4. I am looking forward to reading this book. Thank you for this chance.

  5. I would love to read the book

  6. Thanks for the chance! I’m eager to read this one!

  7. We have a winner!


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