A Convoluted Unbelievable Mystery | Review of ‘Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery’

By Cynthia Ayala

Speakers of the Dead by J. Aaron Sanders
Image Credit: Goodreads

Walt Whitman, Aurora reporter is investigating the murder of his closest friends. Both framed for crimes they did not commit, he is dedicated to exonerating them and finding the true culprit. He and his estranged boyfriend Henry Saunders uncover a deadly link between body snatching and Abraham’s murder. But the web is thicker than that and Walt is only beginning to figure out how high up the later this conspiracy goes.

Published on March 1, 2016 by Plume, Speakers of the Dead by J. Aaron Sanders is a re-imagining of a time in Walt Whitman‘s life when he lived in New York at the Aurora.

This novel is by no means historically accurate; it is very much what it claims to be a reimagining, turning Walt into an investigative journalist on the hunt for this mystery thriller. However, the biggest problem with this novel is the numerous liberties this author took with this story,

It’s one thing to reimagine the history of one historical figure, but Sanders goes beyond that and instead of inventing any characters, or few characters, he brings in other figures in history who existed around this time. Some of the people in this story, actually more than half of them, are based on other historical figures and he takes it upon himself to use them to make this story more interesting. Sanders could have accomplished the exact same thing by being creative using those people as a base for the characters. It would have better for the author to use purely fictional characters based on people who did not interact with him whatsoever. It would have given Sanders more freedom to do what he wanted with the characters.

As for the added cast, the most entertaining one was Edgar Allan Poe who was characterized amazingly. He didn’t have many lines other than his drunk reiterations of his poetry, but he was incredibly entertaining to read and his dynamic with Walt was very believable. Because of that, it’s one of the most forgivable representations in the novel because the writing between them was effortless, it didn’t come off as restrained at all unlike Walt’s relationship with some of the other characters, Henry Saunders excluded. But even with Henry, was ended up being a very minor character, their relationship existed mostly in the realm of Walt’s fantasies and day dreams. They were lovely, but they weren’t real and if would have helped the story more so if they were real instances.

Furthermore, the plot is all over the place. There is a conspiracy going on here but all the pieces aren’t there for the reader and at the end of the day, the climactic moment when the reader finds out what it actually is, is incredibly anti-climactic. Not only that, but everything surrounding it is very convoluted; the pieces there just don’t fit the end revelation.

It’s not that it’s a bad story. At the end of the day, it’s well written with some beautiful language, but it feels rushed and put together without real thought. Puzzle pieces are missing and that’s just disappointing and with the restriction of trying to be true to these actual figures in history, the liberties he took with them left them feeling stiff stripping away any piece of believability. (★★☆☆☆ | C-)

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