Body-snatching in the name of science and murders of the doctors who are performing dissections in order to further man’s understanding of the human body and medicine. Add in some literary figures as central players in the story and you have the basics of J. Aaron Sanders’ Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery.
Reporter Walt Whitman begins to investigate a murder case when the victims involved are close friends of his. Abraham and Lena Stowe are doctors dedicated to furthering science and the role that women have in it by running a medical school for women to train to become doctors. When Abraham is killed for the murder of his supposed lover, his wife Lena is his supposed killer and she is put to death. But the facts aren’t adding up and Whitman digs deeper into the mystery surrounding their deaths and finds a link between his friends’ deaths and the graveyard body-snatching in the form of a name: Samuel Clement.
As a student of literature, I always find it fascinating to take a relatively well-known literary figure and create a new story of their lives. The narrative is an interesting take on a young Walt Whitman as he develops and finds his voice. A bit rough and tumble with crime bosses running the government, preventing justice for the common folk, the story moves quickly and follows some decent (not so) surprising developments in the case. The incorporation of medical advancement via dissection was a good way to ground the novel into the time period it’s written to be in, as well as the realities that we are affronted with so often in contemporary crime shows.
Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.