Can the dead speak to us? Not in terms of so-called spiritualism or seances, but in terms of providing hard evidence that - in the case of murder victims - may provide investigators with valuable clues to the truth?
Today, we know that the answer, in many cases, is "yes" - thanks to the science we call forensic medicine, popularized by any number of fine modern mystery writers, not to mention all those crime scene shows on television.
But in the early years of the 20th century, that kind of detective work was still very new. Scientific techniques that we take for granted today were still unknown or little-used either in real life or in detective fiction.
Enter Craig Kennedy, known as "The Scientific Detective." For many years, in the first few decades of the last century, Kennedy starred in a series of novels and short stories written by Arthur B. Reeve. The Black Dog Press has collected several previously-uncollected stories from late in Reeve's career into an enjoyable anthology called "Dead Men Tell Tales: and other stories of Craig Kennedy, Scientific Detective," and it is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the full review by clicking here.
According to the back-cover text on this collection, Kennedy's popularity in the United States rivaled that of Sherlock Holmes - in fact, he was called the "American Sherlock Holmes," and he had a Watson-like assistant called Jameson. In addition to many magazine stories and books, Reeve's creation appeared in movies and, untimately, on radio and television.
"Dead Men Tell Tales" provides an interesting assortment of stories. One turns on blood typing, which Kennedy uses to solve both a murder and a question of paternity. Another relies for clues on the bleaching power of chlorine gas; a third looks at ways of reviving a supposedly-dead person. The science, occasionally, is a bit strained, but the clues are certainly fair.
There's an interesting novella-length story called "The Death Cry," which was originally published in the classic "pulp" magazine, Weird Tales. There seems to be some doubt about the authenticity of the story, and how much input Reeve might have had, but it remains a compelling - yes, and weird - story of gruesome murder, complete with an often-heard chilling and seemingly inhuman cry that seems to happen when the murders are committed. Scientific? Maybe. Fun? To be sure.
Actually, the whole collection fits our theme this month of finding short-story collections by authors largely neglected today which seem perfect for beach or poolside reading. "Dead Men Tell Tales" certainly fills the bill, if you're looking for something light to read for a relatively short period of time before you roll over to complete your tanning.