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Speakers of the Dead

(Walt Whitman Mystery #1)

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  493 ratings  ·  128 reviews
Speakers of the Dead is a mystery novel centering around the investigative exploits of a young Walt Whitman, in which the reporter-cum-poet navigates the seedy underbelly of New York City's body-snatching industry in an attempt to exonerate his friend of a wrongful murder charge.

The year is 1843; the place: New York City. Aurora reporter Walt Whitman arrives at the Tombs
Paperback, 307 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Plume
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Average rating 3.37  · 
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Carole (Carole's Random Life)
This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life.

Wow! I am kind of shocked by how much I ended up enjoying this book. I grabbed this book to review without a lot of thought. I later looked at it and wondered what the heck I had been thinking. I don't read poetry. Ever. Ok...I was forced to read some poetry in both high school and college but since then my poetry reading has been limited to greeting cards. In other words, Walt Whitman was not any kind of draw for me. My distaste for poetry d
Feb 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Five stars all around for this novel. I choose this story because I wanted to read about the American version of Resurrection men otherwise known as Body Snatchers. Readers are mostly familiar with ones from England and Scotland because of Burke and Hare, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson's book. Many of the American medical museums I have visited have exhibits on Body Snatchers.

Sanders goes into great detail as to how this "service" was performed. He also introduced a character that was a prac
Dorie  - Cats&Books :) (on hiatus until Oct 10)
I was fascinated by the blurb for this book. This is a mystery in which a young Walt Whitman helps to solve the case and a historical novel rolled into one.

The novel begins with the execution of two key figures in the founding of the first medical college for women in the United States located in New York City. Walt Whitman is a fledgeling journalist working for an “alternative” newspaper. He is immediately drawn to this case and he becomes involved in the cause for medical dissection.

During the
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Gay Mystery Winner of the 29th Annual Lambda Literary Awards

I'm glad our modern eBook-readers are still not able to transmit odours. This book could be extremely unpleasant to hold in the hand.

I found the story interesting to follow, and I wanted to know who EXACTLY was implicated in the illegal body snatching, and how Walt Whitman, a young "Aurora" reporter, would prove the innocence of his friend who had been executed by a serious mistake of the New York City court.

This book th
Ronald Koltnow
Dec 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To be published by Plume in March 2016

This debut novel about Walt Whitman, a fledgling newsman, fighting body snatchers in mid-19th Century New York is the best kind of historical novel. It appears to be so thoroughly researched that you accept it as truth. Many of the elements in the story actually did happen and Sanders does a masterful job weaving a tapestry of fact and imagination. In the course of this thriller, you learn of the burgeoning field of medicine for women, the rise of the Tamman
Dana Ingram
Nov 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What luck to find a galley copy of J. Aaron Sander's first novel on my doorstep. From prologue to final page, which I reached reluctantly and eagerly in the same afternoon, I was struck again and again by the economy and wit with which Sanders renders an impressive cast of unforgettable characters.

First among them, of course, is Walt Whitman. The Whitman of 1843 is not yet the 'good grey poet,' and it is with a deft and insightful hand that Sanders imagines the young man. If you are not immedia
Dec 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First, let me just say that I love books with writers as their protagonists and I love mysteries, so this book is a double-win for me!
The book features Walt Whitman as a reporter who investigates the deaths of his friends. It is set in New York, and the time and place are crucial to this story. I also love books that teach me a bit of history that I didn't even know about, and this book taught be about grave robbing and medical dissection. So fascinating!
The writing is, of course, wonderful, an
J. Sanders
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
I loved it. But I also wrote it.
Carey Wilkerson
Nov 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Let me say plainly that Plume hit it out of the park with this one! Speakers of the Dead has it all: clever storytelling, looming mystery, smart historical vision, and a truly unforgettable protagonist. This thrilling, fascinating book opens with an unjust execution, framed by a mysterious murder, set against the backdrop of grave robbing and underworld power struggles in mid-19th-century New York City. J. Aaron Sanders--like his novel's central figure, a young Walt Whitman--is not afraid of the ...more
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, m-m, historical
Well, that was indeed a book where Walt Whitman solves a mystery. I guess.

The author definitely did research. I know, because that research was lovingly showcased. But nothing in the book had the charm I like in historical-author!mysteries. It was just too grimdark. It didn't make me feel happy reading it. And his boyfriend (view spoiler), which, no, thank you.

Elizabeth Blackwell and Edgar Allen Poe were there too, though, which bumps it up to a 3/5.
I really liked reading about this fictionalized version of Walt Whitman and definitely recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction and mystery/ thrillers.
(full review on blog:https://zoeymusesaboutbooks.wordpress...)
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mystery, victorian
Mildly interesting. No real attachment to the characters, weak plot, and ultimately nearly everyone dies so it felt rather hopeless. Will not be reading any potential sequels.
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2016
Dollycas’s Thoughts

J. Aaron Sanders takes a tragic time in history, bodies being snatched from their graves, and twists it just right with a young Walt Whitman on a quest for justice. Lena Stowe has been accused of killing her husband with not much evidence. Her friend Walt Whitman tries to plead her case but is unsuccessful the Lena is hanged in the prison yard. You need to know about Lena and her husband Abraham. They have opened the Woman’s Medical College of Manhattan. Scandalous because wom
Nick Norwood
Dec 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Love literary mysteries? J. Aaron Sanders’s Speakers of the Dead is about as fun as it gets. The scene in which a drunken, dancing, whiskey bottle-waving Edgar Allan Poe runs interference for Walt Whitman, so that he can escape from a graveyard in a freight wagon with the corpse they just dug up, chased by the sheriff—I mean, you’re on your way to the bookstore right now, right? That Sanders is able to blend in so much of historical Manhattan circa 1843, so much of 1840s literary Manhattan, and ...more
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
I have to admit that at first I wasn't happy to have Walt Whitman as this character. It just didn't mesh with the picture in my head. However, reading the notes by the author at the end really brought it to clarity for me. He tells that he took an aspect of Walt's life and then built a mystery around it. It made so much more sense to me and really changed how I saw this book.

It took a while for the mystery to really congeal in my head. It seemed to be a bit disjointed but as the story became les
May 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
With its convergence of realism, romanticism, and transcendentalism, Speakers of the Dead mimics the aesthetics and movements that Whitman’s poetics so seamlessly intersect. J. Aaron Sanders crafts a compelling mystery that thus contains multitudes, as it cleverly frames a disreputable moment in American history through the appeal of the nation’s most beloved poet.

See full review at!
Rae Meadows
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer: I wrote a blurb for this book! And for good reason. A mystery, Whitman, cadavers--need I say more? This is a haunting tale, a gritty page-turner, totally original. Highly recommended.
Sep 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
Feb 19, 2022 added it
Page 18

Whitman considers himself a deist with Quaker leanings, a man who believes that death is a curvature of the ringed self, all part of a larger cycle of comings and goings, that the mind and the soul re eternal.
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
interesting ploy with a bit of Whitman lore thrown in and some comic relief from Edgar Allen Poe. Will definitely try the next one
Hillary Gargel
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Such an interesting take on Walt Whitman. I jumped into this book not really knowing why it was written. So Walt Whitman decides to solve some murders, for what reason? Isn't he a writer after all? Then I read some of the thoughts from the author. It's an interpretation of some of the things/thoughts Walt could have encountered that impacted his writing style.
I was delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed this book but I wish this could have been a series of some sort because some of the cha
Heidi Packard
Feb 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Because I am a fan of both historical fiction and mystery novels, this book really hit the spot! Here are a few reasons why you need to read "Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery."

1. The polished and lucid prose makes this novel a pleasure to read.

I enjoy reading good literature, but dislike having to wade through pages and pages of excessive descriptions and literary masturbation. Thankfully, Sanders' writing is minimalist, tasteful, and unique. I really appreciate his ability to give
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mystery
Good development of Whitman character, but the others are sort of flat.
Kristi | Hidden Staircase |
Speakers of the Dead has an interesting premise centered around a young Walt Whitman, a journalist working in New York City in 1843. The story begins with the hanging of Lena Stowe, accused of killing her husband. Her husband is suspected of having murdered a young woman he was having an affair with. Walt unsuccessfully tries to stop Lena’s execution, and then vows to find the truth.

Throughout the book we are exposed to a fledgling woman’s medical college, body snatchers, autopsies, angry mobs,
Blodeuedd Finland
I do not know a lot about Walt Whitman, poet, American, and then my knowledge ends. Sorry Walt, but you might have been mentioned or not. All I remember from that poetry class I took is Rochester, and my lovely WW1 poets. But never mind that! In this fictional story that blends fact with fiction we get to see him when he was a journalist and struggling writer, and not the famous man he will be later on.

New York, the 1840s. A time of immigration, cholera, a police force not always doing police wo
Speakers of the Dead turned out to be quite an enjoyable mystery that I was eager to solve by the end. I haven't read much by or about Walt Whitman, so Whitman being the main character was a bit tangential for me, but it did make me curious to learn more about Whitman. I love historical fiction set in New York City and was intrigued by the description of a mystery involving body-snatching. (Yep, I have morbid taste in books sometimes.) This mystery was an interesting look at the seedy underbelly ...more
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Like most Americans, I know of Walt Whitman through his poetry, and the only biographical information that's stuck with me over the years pertains to his work. My mental image of him always features a large, graying beard. To read this novel, which features Whitman as a young journalist/friend seeking justice for the murders of his friends, you can see how traces of his personality may have formed. Whether or not you like Whitman's poetry, this is a well-crafted historical mystery novel with a f ...more
Apr 08, 2016 rated it liked it
For a debut novel, this book was interesting and began to introduce us to Walt Whitman as a character.

I agree with another review that said it felt a little under-filled, that there could have been more to this story to set us down the path with Walt. I agreed with this, and definitely felt that the characters were a bit flat and needed more depth.

All of this can certainly be righted, however, in future novels. I didn't care for the first two books in the Pendergast series, and now it's one of
Apr 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book seemed to take me for ever to read even though it’s not that long. An interesting subject but that’s all that was interesting the characters where flat and I wasn’t able to enjoy any of them. I found the story line disjointed. All and all I don’t feel I will read any more of these books by this author
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Bad, but not offensive so it gets 2 stars. For a mystery novel there really isn't a mystery because the answer is revealed almost immediately. And the story can't instead be supported by such boring and predictable characters. ...more
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J. Aaron Sanders is the award-winning author of Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery. His short stories and essays have been published in such places as Lithub, Carolina Quarterly, Writer’s Digest, Library of America, among others. He earned an MFA at University of Utah, a PhD at University of Connecticut, and was a Professor of English at Columbus State University from 2008-2016. Since th ...more

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  The glint of fangs in the dark, the sound of tap-tap-tapping at your window, the howling of wind (or is it just wind?) in the trees...that's...
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