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August 2002
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The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck by Alexander Laing (1934)

Alexander Laing (1903-1976) was a poet, novelist, and anthologist best known for such popular seafaring adventures as Jonathan Eagle, Matthew Early, and The Sea Witch. Laing also turned his hand, with modest success, to more horrific subjects. His most notable effort in this vein was The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck, first published in 1934 and now largely, though not entirely, forgotten.

A pseudo-documentary supposedly written by "a Medical Student" and edited by Laing, Gideon Wyck concerns a grim series of events that occur in Altonville, Maine, fictional home of the Maine State College of Surgery. A lurid story of murder, madness, and medical horrors, the novel recounts the disappearance of Gideon Wyck, an ailing, controversial teacher and medical researcher whose embalmed cadaver eventually resurfaces in a hermetically sealed vault in the college dissection lab. The subsequent investigation embroils numerous members of the Altonville community, including David Saunders, the narrator, Mike Collins, a frequent blood donor and certified medical anomaly, and Manfred "Prexy" Allyn, the grotesquely deformed president of the college.

Certain aspects of the novel now seem dated, almost quaint. The prose is sometimes stodgy, the characterizations are overly broad, and the dialogue is often stilted and unconvincing. Still, writers as different as Karl Edward Wagner and Robert Bloch have publicly acknowledged Laing's influence, and it's easy to see why. For all its flaws, The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck remains a visceral, cleverly conceived melodrama whose raw narrative power still makes itself felt nearly seventy years after its initial appearance.

—Bill Sheehan

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