- Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott MontgomeryNew York City’s past seems to be a perfect setting for crime fiction writers. Whether Caleb Carr’s special unit hunting down a serial killer in the 1890s, David C. Taylor’s view of the city as a place for the dirty deeds of 1950s power players, or Lindsay Fayes’ Timothy Wilde working a beat as one of its first coppers, it seems that New York was was corrupt as soon as the Dutch bought it from The American Indians for twenty-four bucks. J Aaron Sanders is the latest to travel along New York’s underbelly of the past with The Speakers Of The Dead.
Our hero is a young Walt Whitman, reporting for the Aurora newspaper in 1843. We meet in him in a failed attempt to rescue his friend, Lena Stowe, co-founder of The Women’s Medical College, from being hung for murdering her husband, Abraham. Abraham had been accused of killing his mistress in a botched abortion. It is a sensational case that has caught the interest of Whitman’s professional rival, Edgar Allen Poe.
Determined to clear Lena and Abraham’s names, Whitman embarks on an investigative piece with the help of his new editor and old lover, Henry. The woman’s murder is tied to the controversial practice of human dissection and the black market trade of grave robbing it has created. Before long, he’s is caught in a web of New York’s secrets where crime, politics, religion, and science all intersect.
Sanders gives us a vivid and grimy New York of its time. Whitman’s scrappy and competitive newspaper world gives it a pace for a ripping yarn. The city has the feel of an enormous village who’s rapid growth is out of control. The elites struggle to to contain it, but there is a feeling it could bust out into anarchy any time.
J Aaron Sanders takes you back to an exciting New York, growing into the metropolis it will become. He populates it with rich characters who all carry their share of secrets. I look forward to the next tour he and Mr. Whitman will give. You can find copies of Speakers of the Dead on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.