The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck
Alexander Laing | Collier Books | 1962 (first published 1934) | 250 pages
Told in the form of a written transcript of events by medical student David Saunders, The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck chronicles a series of bizarre occurrences swirling around a small university hospital following the disappearance of an ethically challenged doctor.
After brusquely dismissing a former amputation patient’s cries of pain issuing from a phantom limb, Dr. Gideon Wyck embarks on a strange nocturnal rendezvous with a nurse in the desolate farmlands outside of town. Trailed by the inquisitive Saunders, the doctor disappears in a car with an unknown driver, and is not seen again. For the first few days following the disappearance, the students and faculty are relieved by the temporary absence of a generally cruel and erratic personality. When his embalmed body eventually turns up in the freezer with the cadavers stored for anatomy class dissections, however, the small Maine medical college finds itself at the center of a baffling murder mystery.
Although the whodunnit question functions as the nominal core of the story, Saunders’ investigation unearths an increasingly macabre series of revelations stemming from Wyck’s secret program of experiments. Former patients complain of demonic possession, donors suffer from sympathetic pains with the recipients of their unauthorized blood transfusions, epileptics enter into bouts of murderous rage while suffering from seizure-induced blackouts, and a series of monstrously deformed babies are birthed by women who share some common connection with Gideon Wyck.
The grotesqueries are necessarily viewed at some distance due to the conceit of a transcript from a student’s perspective, but succeed in evoking a queasy atmosphere of morbidity. Considering the list of shocking discoveries, the middle section of the book plods along while Saunders shifts through and considers at length each of all the possible suspects and their alibis, including his classmates, hospital administrator, the county coroner, and even his would-be girlfriend.Although some of the scientific content is pure nonsense, reading Gideon Wyck provides a comparable experience to browsing the formaldehyde-soaked specimens enclosed in glass jars on display in a museum of medical curiosities.
The denouement falls far too flat for Gideon Wyck to be included in the pantheon of great mysteries, but its reputation is justly earned as an early masher of genres—mystery, horror, science fiction, and medical thriller—that somehow congeals into an oddly original pulp concoction.