Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck by Alexander Laing (1934)

Alexander Laing, writer, seaman and poet, is today remembered at all for having edited The Haunted Omnibus in 1937 and for his few books which, while having some fantastical elements, seem to have these as window dressing more than anything. His most famous novel is probably today's piece.

When one comes into this book with the idea of reading about demons and unnecessary amputations and deformed children born out of horrenouds scientific experiments, one would not think these plot points should serve such a minor role in the story as they do. Instead, the originator of all this, the titular Gideon Wyck, MD, is soon murdered and it falls to the plucky medical student and writing assistant David Sanders to go about and do some amateur sleuthing because all the sherif can think of is following people around so he can take everyone's fingerprints by hook or by crook.

Sanders gets the help of his love interest and phone operator Daisy and together they try to sleuthe something out. They find the bunker where the experiments took place and trail Wyck's bastard epileptic son all the way to Nantucket and New York where he murders a former nurse and accomplice, but soon everyone forgets that Wyck was disfiguring developing fetuses to transform them into inhuman mangled merepeople/seal humanoids and instead Sanders just goes on about the possibility of being framed while we go through court processions and questionings and coroner's inquests and jury deliberation etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. The inhuman experiments stop being a focus entirely maybe two thirds in, and they never come up again and we have to wade through page after page of talk about embalming and examinations of clothing and weird mushy prints on a lightbulb.

That Karl Edward Wagner would put this on his legendary list of best horror novels under the Thirteen Best Science Fiction Horror Novels category utterly baffles me. Perhaps he read the second edition trimmed down of about 100 pages courtesy of Laing going in with a pair of scissors, but even if the sleuthing is severly cut down, it wouldn't make the fantastical material present in the book any better due to it's scarcity and sheer neglect towards the end.

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