Valancourt Books, 2016
originally published 1934
William Hjortsberg's little back-cover blurb describes The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck as
"part mystery novel, part Gothic mad scientist tale, part grotesque horror story..."and the combination of all three of these descriptors was just too much for me to pass up. What he doesn't tell you there is that it's also a crazy ride with a number of what I call WTF-did-I-just-read moments, some of which came back to haunt me one night while riding out a very high fever. You haven't lived until you're already a bit delirious and little harnesses hanging from the shower find their way into your fever dreams along with a "series of monster babies," the repeated images of which I could have lived without. Then again, none of that surprises me since the novel sort of crawled under my skin in a weird (but good) way.
There's some pretty bizarre stuff going on at the Maine State College of Surgery, all of it capped off by the discovery of the dead Dr. Gideon Wyck, who had only recently gone missing. Medical student David Saunders decides to investigate for himself in order to discover who in the small community may have wanted Wyck dead. By the time we arrive at the discovery of Wyck's body, the number of people who have motive to kill the good doctor include a group of women who have recently given birth to severely deformed babies, his own daughter, disgruntled medical students, a man whose arm Wyck amputated for no apparent reason and who now has gone over the mental edge, and any number of others whose lives have been affected by Dr. Gideon Wyck. Saunders, who also works as secretary to the school's director, has been keeping a diary of a number of strange occurrences , and finds himself in the unenviable position of being unable to trust anyone because he himself is also implicated in Wyck's death.
|frontispiece, by Lynd Ward|
While this all may sound like the description of a typical crime novel, The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck is actually anything but -- at its core is scientific experimentation, the very nature of which places this book firmly in the strange tales camp. It appears on Karl Edward Wagner's list of favorite horror works under "Thirteen Best Science Fiction Horror Novels," which is a good way to describe this book, but there are other adjectives that also come to mind about it as well. "Demented" is a word I've used more than once in trying to explain this story to people; "out there" is also a good way to describe it, as is "crazytown." It's also a book where bad science meets mad science, but since I have no intention of revealing any more about this story than I absolutely have to, I think that's about all that I should say about it except that it is truly one of the weirdest novels I've read in a very long while, which is not at all a bad thing. Recommended -- not only is it bizarre, but it's also fun. Just don't read it while you have a fever.
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