by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell
On Sale: January 19, 2021
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Hardcover: 304 Pages
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 collapse beam. 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.
About the authors
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.
CHAPTER 1A 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. “Four thirty.” “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?” “The body?” “The superintendent.” “Let’s find out what the dead guy has to say first.” Donna chuckled in a dark way. “Just you wait and see, Doc.” The pair of 2578s led me across the construction site by flashlight. Work lights were coming on, but they left big dark gaps. “Who found the body?” Donna consulted her clipboard. “Dispatch says a worker named Samuel Urias, opening up after the night shift.” The construction site by flashlight was a spooky place, even by my standards. Dirty yellow machines loomed in the beams, and plastic sheeting fluttered from the shadows. Our feet crunched on gravel, then whispered over packed dirt. The only thing that was well lit was a mobile office trailer, on a rise to our left, surrounded by silhouettes in hard hats. Donna led us toward a detached flatbed trailer, parked with its landing-gear feet pressing into the dirt. It was loaded with long metal pipes, six or eight inches in diameter, in bundles of twenty or so. The bundles were bound together with tight black bands at either end and had been stacked four high on the flatbed. One of the bands securing the top bundle had snapped. It waved drunkenly in the air—and half a dozen pipes lay tumbled in the dirt. Underneath them was a body. It was a man. He was on his back. His head and shoulders were crushed under the pipes. He wore a business suit and black wingtip shoes, the left one coming off at the heel. His arms were flung out. I determined his race to be white from his hands, which offered the only visible skin. They were clean and uncalloused, fingernails manicured, wedding band on the left ring finger, a college ring on the right. Excerpted from Aftershock by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell, copyright © 2021 by Dr. Judy Melinek and Thomas J. Mitchell. Published by Hanover Square Press.