Book Review: Silent are the Dead

Silent are the Dead is an original Flash Casey novel by George Herman Coxe. It 1941, it was originally serialized in Black Mask Magazine (where Casey made his debut in 1934) in three parts, and published as a standalone novel in 1942.

In it, ace photographer Flash Casey has to get pictures of a disgraced lawyer after his camera case is stolen and his film exposed. When he goes up to the lawyer’s apartment, he finds the lawyer dead and himself in a case that grows ever more complex.

Flash Casey is an interesting character. He bares little resemblance to the character who’d arrive on radio the next year and less to the hotheaded goofball of the film Here’s Flash Casey. Casey is a decent sort. He’s got a nose for news but he’s neither heartless, nor unethical. He’s got a hard boiled edge to him, but this never goes over the top. He also takes a great deal of pride not just in his own work, but in the profession and its status, which motivates his actions in the final act of the novel.

This is a solidly written mystery novel. The plot is complex and intriguing with twists around every corner. The story is well-plotted, and well-paced. My interest never lagged from start to finish. I appreciated how photography was used in the novel to make this story distinct from the countless tales of private eyes, lawyers, and mystery men that dominated the fiction shelfs of the day. I’ve experienced a few stories from the old Black Mask magazine and compared to them, this book is above average. 

The characterization is not a huge strength. With one exception, the other characters feel mostly functional. They’re not unrealistic, over the top, or badly written, but as individuals, they’re surface level and blend quickly into a sea of newspaper employees, gangsters, damsels/potential femme fatales, and cops without much personality to distinguish them. Still, with Casey being well-written, he’s an anchor that keeps the story interesting.

In terms of quality, I’d consider it similar to the best Michael Shayne books.  It’s not a genre classic by any means, but it is a good example of a pre-War detective novel with hard-boiled flavor. In addition, its photographer hero makes it stand out from most of its mystery peers. It’s also a nice read for those who enjoy the Casey, Crime Photographer radio series and are curious about the hero’s literary origins. 

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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