In Allen Wyler’s thriller “Dead Ringer,” a Seattle neurosurgeon travels to Hong Kong to demonstrate a surgical technique on a cadaver head. He is shocked to recognize the head as belonging to his best friend, a stock broker who is supposed to be alive and well back in Seattle.
There’s no mystery in the plot. The reader learns early on that the villains abduct people, kill them, and send their body parts to medical seminars. After the seminar, the bad guys cremate the evidence in the funeral home they operate. The excitement comes as the surgeon tries to prove that his friend was murdered while the bad guys try to stop him. Most of the victims are prostitutes and street people. Unlike the stock broker, they usually have no one searching for them.
The stock broker almost had no one looking for him. He was down to his last friend after alienating his ex-wife and co-workers with his vices. The surgeon’s wife keeps trying to discourage him from investigating his friend’s disappearance. He meets an attractive female detective who wondered if there could be any connection to a report of a missing prostitute. In time, they realize that the stock broker and the prostitute were together when they disappeared. A van from the funeral home had been spotted nearby. However, the circumstantial evidence wasn’t enough. The book plods a little as the characters try to find more conclusive proof.
Late in the story, a cremation occurs and the ashes are swept out of the cremator. In reality, brittle bone pieces would be raked out of the oven and put into a processor that reduces them to dust. The minor flaws aren’t enough to ruin the book. I enjoyed it and would recommend it. By the time I got to the second half, the pace of the story had picked up and I looked forward to the next chance I had to continue reading.
The bad guys in “Dead Ringer” are reminiscent of William Burke and William Hare. In 1828, the two Williams killed at least 16 people, including some prostitutes, and sold their bodies to Professor Robert Knox for his anatomical research in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The concept of using body parts to teach surgical techniques was also mentioned by Jefferson Bass in the Body Farm novel, “The Bone Thief.” The Body Farm itself gets a mention on page 73 of “Dead Ringer.”
“The demand for cadavers isn’t just for medical education, either. There’re other needs you might not think about. Forensic studies, as an example. There’s a guy in Tennessee who’s made a name for himself by studying the life cycle of maggots in decomposing bodies. He’s the world expert on the subject. He had fields of corpses and adds new corpses to them all the time. Can you imagine a field of rotting bodies? I’m sure you must have heard of him.”