The Dead Alive written by Wilkie Collins in the 1870s is based on the real-life wrongful conviction of Stephen and Jesse Boorn that happened in 1819 in the United States, in the state of Vermont. It shines a light on the failures of the legal system when it came to collecting forensic evidence. Some editions of this book might contain a detailed review of the 1819 Boorn case. Mine, however, only contains a short paragraph at the end about the Boorn case written by Wilkie Collins.
As you can see, The Dead Alive is much shorter story (a novella) than his typical novels, about the size of a pamphlet…just something to be aware of if you are price shopping for the physical book. I like to read physical books, but had I known ahead of time that this book was going to be this small for the same price as one of Wilkie’s regular sized novels, I might have skipped buying it since it’s available online for free. This is another book that is in the public domain, which means it’s available for free to read on Gutenberg.org, or listen to at Librivox.org.
The law and it’s failures and characters who are just everyday people yet feel compelled to take circumstances into their own hands to bring about justice, are consistent themes that run through many of Collins’ books including The Woman in White, The Moonstone, No Name, The Law and the Lady, and Man and Wife.
Most of the characters are male in this book, but there is one female character and the twist or surprise at the end is related to her. It’s not a big twist and this is not a complicated book, but it was the only thing in the book that brought me any surprise as I neared the end. Wilkie Collins has written better books than this, but for all you CSI and NCSI fans who are interested in forensics and criminal cases, and certainly if you are a Wilkie Collins fan, this might be for you. If so, go to your quiet place and start reading or listening.