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The Education of a Coroner: Lessons in Investigating Death

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  939 ratings  ·  141 reviews
In the vein of Dr. Judy Melinek’s Working Stiff, an account of the hair-raising and heartbreaking cases handled by the coroner of Marin County, California throughout his four decades on the job—from high-profile deaths to serial killers, to Golden Gate Bridge suicides.

Marin County, California is a study in contradictions. Its natural beauty attracts thousands of visitors e
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published August 15th 2017 by Scribner
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Unusually for a profession, Ken Holmes came up through the ranks. He started as an embalmer, spent most of his career as a death investigator and then 12 years as the Marin County, California, elected coroner. The book is one case after the next presenting different aspects of a death investigator's and coroner's work. It is interesting and well-written but not earth-shattering. It might have been even better if we had learned more about Ken Holmes and than the bare bones Bateson wrote about.

Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Coroners deal with death, but their purpose is to find answers for the living.

Ken Holmes's career at the Marin County coroner’s office spanned nearly forty years. He started out as a licensed embalmer at a funeral home, which led to him becoming a death investigator for the county. During the last twelve years of his career, he was the elected county coroner. In this book he reveals the intricacies of his job, a job that most people would rather not think about: the tell-tale signs our bodie
Jan 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

"Death knows no keeper. It's a great leveler. The rich & famous are touched the same as the average Joe." -- Ken Holmes, Marin County Coroner's Office (retired)

An appropriate companion piece alongside Dr. Judy Melinek's excellent work bio Working Stiff (about her years in the New York City's Medical Examiner's Office), Bateson's The Education of a Coroner focuses on Ken Holmes and his 30+ year employment (1975-2011) in various positions with the Marin County Coroner's Office, a quiet co
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ken Holmes career as a coroner in Marin County, California spanned more than four decades. During that time he oversaw many deaths - accidents, suicides and homicides, some straightforward and some complex and some cases that took many years to finally solve. He prided himself on being a voice for the dead and finding the truth for their families. In telling his stories to John Bateson, he has allowed us to enter his fascinating world and career.

Ken Holmes really did learn his career on the job.
Aimee (Book It Forward)
As creepy as this sounds...I LOVED this book. I’ve always been very interested in crime and almost became a homicide detective. Unfortunately my stomach and heart couldn’t handle it. So I choose to live vicariously through the authors who write non-fiction books about all of the things related to murder and death. Again, I know that sounds creepy and I probably sound like a weirdo but I’m sure I’m not alone! People like us who enjoy reading these kinds of books are interested in the stories behi ...more
Nov 24, 2017 rated it liked it
What you expect? Not really, this is more a case study after case study. It is "this is what we found, this is what we decided"- and by case a definition of that case. Not all that much about education toward the job description at all. But that he got it (the job) because he had the "embalming license" and therefore was used to corpse contact; that particular was rather insightful.

It's a read that will teach you about the most common Marin County's (CA) autopsy examples, that's for sure. And a
Lolly K Dandeneau
Apr 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
via my blog:
“Some deaths, on the other hand were just head-scratches, so strange that they almost defied belief.”

This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read about a coroner. Handled with delicacy and respect for both the living and dead rather than being ‘sensationalism’, Bateson tells the real story of what such a career entails. Without a question, much skill and intelligence is required in solving such mysteries, working in reverse to
Valerity (Val)
If you like coroner shows on TV you'll likely enjoy this book. It's full of behind the scenes info, and they chose many of the more interesting cases during Ken Holmes' nearly 40 years as a coroner. Lots of fascinating facts. it covers cases in Marin County, California which is a very beautiful area with some of the most expensive property in part of it, in another part it has a bridge with a high suicide rate, and yet another area, a prison full of a wide spread of case types. So it has all sor ...more
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
3.5 stars Reading John Bateson's book, The Education of a Coroner: Lessons in Investigating Death, is like reading a very grim tabloid. No gossipy or gory detail is spared, which sometimes felt overwhelming to me. But I like CSI-type shows and this was like binge watching them, except in a book.

In a nutshell, the young Ken Holmes was interested in medicine and was a detailed thinker. But he wasn't much of a student, so he started working in mortuaries in the 1950s. This led him to the coroner's
Ken Holmes was a death investigator and coroner in Marin County, California for a total of 36 years before his retirement at the end of 2010. The coroner’s career is bound to be eventful no matter where one works, but Marin County creates its fair share of special interest, what with all the suicides at Golden Gate Bridge, misdeeds at San Quentin Prison, and various cases involving celebrities (e.g. Harvey Milk, Jerry Garcia and Tupac) in addition to all your everyday sordid homicides.

Bateson is
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This was so interesting! I couldn't get enough!
Sarah Ames-Foley
Find this review and more like it on my blog.

**Note: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. This in no way impacts my review**

cw: death, murder, sexual assault, rape culture, sexism, racism

It's been a hot second since I've read some nonfiction and I was really looking forward to this book. I plucked it off Netgalley, thinking that it looked fascinating. From the beginning, it reeled me in. I think a lot of us find the concept of death fascinating, and the idea of
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review.
John Bateson has written an engaging book that grabbed my attention and kept it from the first page to the last. Ken Holmes was an excellent subject for the book. His humility and humanity were an excellent counterpoint to the often grisly nature of his job.
The cases that were featured showed how varied the day-to-day work of the coroner's office is. The politics of the office were often frustrating and mad
Ken Holmes spent 4 decades being a coroner in Marin County, Ca. and has a myriad of stories to tell. Author John Bateson tells how Holmes has worked in a wealthy community, but one that has a big problem with drug overdoses and deaths due to alcoholism. There is also the many suicides from those who jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Readers will appreciate the honest, yet reverent way that the author approaches the important job of coroner, minus the gory details.
4.5 actually.

brilliant, good, very well-done, well-organized.

The book merges key events from Ken Holmes professional life with some of the most memorable of the 762 cases that Marin County coroner’s office dealt with between 1970-2010.

Currently a 67-year old retiree, Holmes was a coroner for twelve years though he worked in the department for thirty-plus years. For all the scrutiny and paper record detail given to each case and the office politics, not much is told of Holmes’ home life, for e.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc
As a lover of medical and medically-adjacent nonfiction I happily dug into Education of a Coroner. CSI without all the fake glamour? I'm there!

The jacket copy makes it sound like the book is from Holmes' point of view but we're actually following the author, a professional acquaintance. Bateson goes through Holmes' records and conducts a series of interviews that form the backbone of the book. I found myself wishing he had done more synthesis of the material and gotten into Holmes' head instead
Jul 25, 2019 rated it liked it
2017 317 pages

This is quite an interesting book, if you are a murder mystery reader. Mr Holmes (interesting enough) is hired to be the coroner for marin county. This book contains his stories of how deaths were solved via technology, dna testing, plain old police work and messages the decomposing body tells. I thought it would be more morbid, but not so. What people do to others is deplorable, unforgiving and disgusting.

Holmes gives an clear, yet not nauseating, ride in how the deceased body is
Camille Sherek
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very informative and good writing. Love this kind of stuff so I found it to be interesting learning about the life of coroner. Ken Holmes in my opinion had a difficult job dealing with death in all its forms. I like what he said about how you never really get closure: “I firmly believe we never have ‘closure’ following a death of someone close to us. We may find some peace, we may ‘get through it’ and our lives continue, but true closure is elusive at best and probably nonexistent.” Honest and v ...more
Mar 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fascinating! This book follows a county coroner in Marin County, California through his 35-year career, the interesting cases he has seen and the things he has learned. It moves quickly, not spending long enough on one story to get bored. I will be looking for more by this author.
Jennifer Jessop
Dec 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. I couldn't put it down.
Mrs. Danvers
A very interesting and thorough examination of the role of a coroner, told anecdotally. Holmes, the Marin County coroner for many years, is portrayed very lovingly, giving the reader a window into the humanity behind the job title. 3.5 stars.
Magdalena Wajda
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Interesting for those who are into CSI, detective stories and so on.
I don't know what I was expecting, really, but I guess my expectations were a bit raised by marketing efforts of the publisher. And the whole book turned out rather "meh", because it can be a bit boring at times.
Good presentation of the profession.
Sarahbeth Yamiolkowski
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
John Bateson takes the reader on a journey through the career of Marin County Coroner Ken Holmes. Without sensationalism he highlights the highs, lows, and plateaus of a job that is often misrepresented in today's media. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime, medical examination, and to those who are interested in a career as a coroner.
Bethany Woodson
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I mostly liked this book, the coroner himself is very interesting. There were various times though when the author was an overt patriarchy subscriber (victim blaming, use of sexist language, etc) that was distracting. Nothing out of the ordinary really but it was a detractor.
I have to admit I'm completely biased. I have known Ken Holmes since I lost my son Matthew when he disappeared in November 2007. Without a body there's no reason for a Coroner investigation. I did contact him to help calm my feelings of guilt… had we done enough to search for him? Should we have engaged the Coast Guard more frequently? Matthew disappeared during the time when a ship hit the Oakland Bay bridge and leaked oil all throughout the bay and shoreline. People walked along the Coast, so ...more
Laura Lacey
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an absolutely fascinating insight into the life of a coroner based near the Brooklyn Bridge. As a fan of medical nonfiction, true crime, and anything slightly morbid I really enjoyed this - it was almost as good as Mary Roach's Stiff. Bateson tells the stories with great humanity and humility. This work touches on every area of life and the experiences of so many people. He also really exposes the strange world of the coroners office and the odd relationship it has with politics and gove ...more
Apr 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
You'd think this might be disturbing and weird. Surprisingly interesting. Really enjoyed getting to know how they do their job and what kind of things they encounter. Sad at times, but its life.

Thanks to author, Netgalley and publisher for the chance to read book. While I got the book for free, it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.
J Aislynn d'Merricksson
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
***This book as reviewed for the San Francisco and Seattle Book Reviews, and for Scribner via Netgalley

Education of a Coroner by John Bateson tells the intriguing experiences of Ken Holmes, former coroner of Marin County in California. For forty-odd years, Holmes worked in the coroner's office, first as a death investigator, then later as assistant coroner and head coroner.

Coroners are different than medical examiners. They are elected officials who may, or may not, as in Holmes’ case, be a med
While this book had some interesting stories about cases the cases Ken Holmes, who worked with the Marin County’s coroner’s office for thirty-four years, worked on, the book is more a collection of stories than a unified book on a subject.

The book is based on a series of interviews that the author John Bateson had with Kenneth Holmes who worked for thirty-four years in a variety of positions in the Coroner of Marin’s county’s office eventually becoming the Coroner of the county himself. Before I
Cassie Troja
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: liked, biographical
**I received a digital copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

The Education of a Coroner is about the experiences of one man and his coworkers in the coroner's office of Marin County, California, throughout his career, which spanned from the late 70s through the new millennium. The rapid changes in technology, philosophy, and techniques in just under 40 years is incredible. The cases are morbidly fascinating, especially considering Marin County is one of
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For 16 years I was executive director of a nationally-certified crisis intervention and suicide prevention center in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have also been executive director of three university-run counseling centers and assistant director of a two-county social service agency. Three of my books--"The Last and Greatest Battle" (Oxford University Press, 2015), "The Final Leap" (University of ...more

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