Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

Frequent Autopsy Questions (FAQ)


  1. Why do we need a name when you don't ask for it on the Death Certificate? This is just a rule-of-thumb to see if the character is significant to the story. I don't want someone to reference, say, an airplane crash and claim 100 deaths. The Death Certificate is a summary of the deaths in the story, and some stories have lots of deaths. The challenge should be fun and not a record-keeping burden.

  2. Partial names: When you say a victim has to be named does it have to be their full name? Can just a first or last name work?  Either a first name or a last name is sufficient. That is enough to identify them throughout the story. Consider servants: I have a 1923 etiquette book, and it says household servants are addressed by first name, but butlers and chauffeurs are addressed by last name! Sometimes one name is combined with a title (Inspector Garfield, Aunt Dorothy). All good. Either a first or last name is fine. - RM


  1. What deaths count? Any death in which you can cite a name and a cause of death. Here are some examples:

    • Sophia was convicted of shooting her barista, Arabica Simpson, for messing up her coffee order. - COUNTS, NAMED and CAUSE OF DEATH cited

    • While in the Chicago mob, Dwayne Cummerbund drowned 7 guys in the bay for messing up his alibi.- DOES NOT COUNT (CAUSE OF DEATH cited, but victims not named)

    • He murdered his wife's asthmatic lover, Elmont Q. Thorpmeister III for messing up their relationship. - DOES NOT COUNT (NAMED, but no CAUSE OF DEATH cited).

  2. Do only murders count? - No, that would lead to big time layoffs in the M.E. office. Anyone who winds up in the morgue, whether from murder, accident, natural cause, suicide, old age, or being stuffed up a chimney by an orangutan - and has a name - needs a toe tag.

  3. Suicide: How do we treat a suicide? Treat suicides as any other death, and report the cause ... poison, shot, fall, etc. In real life, Medical Examiners must make two findings: cause of death (shot, stab, etc.), and manner of death (suicide, homicide, natural, etc.). I figured that was a bit too much to ask for the challenge so the challenge only asks for a cause.

    Many times an author will have a murderer take the easy way out (suicide) at the end of the story, which saves them the trouble of writing about an arrest and prosecution of the criminal, and the reader would likely lose interest once the murderer is identified anyway. .This is a common ending in the Philo Vance novels by S. S. Van Dine as well, you can pretty much expect it to occur at the end. He was criticized for overusing it.

  4. Accidental death: Suppose the death is not intended but the man got involved in a fight, got pushed, hit his head and died. Does it count? Yes, that counts, it is part of the plot. The body still showed up in your morgue and needs a toe tag.

  5. Executions: In many mysteries we find a line or two, in the end, regarding the fate of the villains: So and so was given life-imprisonment, So and so was executed etc. Do we then issue a toe-tag for those executed too? Certainly, if you have a body and a name, you can issue a Toe Tag. Not for the life imprisoned, though. Patience, grasshopper.

  6. Death from days gone by: A death takes place in the past and has little bearing on the case being investigated in the present, does that count? A robbery took place, a man was shot dead as the robbers escaped, only to be caught and imprisoned. The mystery mainly deals with the recovery of the stolen goods, after a decade. Long-ago deaths are referred to frequently. You can report them if you have a name and a cause of death.

  7. Resurrections: How would we count characters who die (from various means) and then come back to life by mythical means? My first mystery of the year was filled with this. I would certainly count them. They had to go through the morgue (once at least), so you get to make your autopsy notes on them as usual; even if they get resurrected later on.

  8. More than seven deaths: The form only allows 7 deaths per cause. What if we have more? Just state the number/cause in the Comments box.

  9. Animals: Can we count an animal who is named and dies? In my book, a monkey named Cupid has been poisoned and died. It is quite central to the plot and, in fact, Cupid has had a postmortem done on him. Does Cupid (or any named animal central to a mystery plot) get to have a toe tag? Sure, it gives the M.E.s something to do on slow days! I just read Port of Seven Strangers by Kathleen Moore Knight, the story line contains a parrot who is part of the plot. He dies, and since he has a name (Lorenzo) I am counting him.


  1. Other genres: Can you count thrillers? For example I just finished Shari Lapena's Someone We Know and there are 2 murder victims in the story and the assailant is unknown until the end- not necessarily what people define as a mystery like Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen but is Thriller a subgenre? Sure, thrillers can count! I am not sure of the definition, but I read some by Edgar Wallace and Leslie Charteris - and the murderer is known all along - it occurs as part of the story. The 'mystery' is will the murderer get caught? Thrillers, Historical Mystery, even True Crime are OK as long you have a name and a cause of death.

  2. Short stories: How do we handle a book of short stories? If multiple authors, just provide the editor's name as the author. Add up the various deaths for your toe tags. Easy.

  3. Revisions: Can we edit information we have already submitted? Yes, but not directly. These challenge pages are all on my personal web site, and it is not sophisticated enough to allow direct editing. When you submit a Death Certificate form for a book, I get the form and just copy/paste the information you submitted into the web page. There's nothing automatic happening. If you wish to edit something you have already submitted, you can either 1). describe the edit in an email to me, or 2). just submit the form again; and I will change it. If I see a second form come in for a book you have already submitted, I assume it is a correction.

  4. Personal info: Can we change our profile/personal info? The only personal info that shows is the name you selected, location, photo, and links to your Goodreads profile or blog. You are in charge. They can be anything you prefer. Just email any change to me, attach any updated photo you wish to use. I do have to crop the photos down to 50 pixels wide to fit, so they can't be too complex.

  5. Wrapping up: What happens at the end of the challenge? A new challenge page for the new year will be posted. The gurneys and instruments will be cleaned and sterilized. The current year challenge page will remain online for your reference.

Any questions? Email me at Thank you for participating!

Rick MillsThe Mystillery • Revised Jan 27 2021