Thursday, April 06, 2006

Wilkie Collin's The Dead Alive: The Novel, the Case, and the Wrongful Convictions by Rob Warden

Scott Turow notes in his introduction to Wilkie Collin's The Dead Alive, that Collins is wrongly credited as the inventor of the mystery novel, when Edgar Allan Poe had written Murders in the Rue Morgue twenty-five years before Collin's The Moonstone. Still Turow acclaims that Collins was one of the "progenitors of the popular novel" and was the "first author of a legal thriller" with the short novel The Dead Alive.

This new edition of The Dead Alive from Northwestern University Press is an uncommon book. The first part of the book is fiction, being a republication of Collin's classic tale about the wrongful conviction of two brothers for the murder of a man they have disliked and threatened publicly. The second part is an essay by Rob Warden, who is the executive director of the Center on Wrongful Conviction at Northwestern University School of Law. He tells the story of the true case from which Collins drew his inspiration and the the history of other wrongful conviction cases in the United States. What is troubling is how many times law enforcement officials forced confessions from the accused when no body was ever found. Warden goes on to cite cases where the supposed victims later were found alive, sometimes after the accused were found guilty and executed. Two appendices on wrongful convictions are included.

Libraries have a difficult decision. Do they put the book in fiction with the other Collins novels or in the true crime area? We have it in the true crime area because we think the purpose of the book is exposing the history of wrongful conviction. Other libraries may decide differently.

The decision to read the book is easy. The novel is modern and compelling and relatively short. The Dead Alive could be an interesting discussion book.

Warden, Rob. Wilkie Collin's The Dead Alive: The Novel, the Case, and Wrongful Convictions. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2005. ISBN 0810122944

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