CHENNAI: If you are someone who does most of your reading right before you hit the sack, we would suggest you find a different slot to read Dead Men Tell Tales. That it’s unputdownable is just one reason, to begin with. Let us assume that you are someone with a healthy sleep cycle and you manage to fall asleep at your usual time. Most likely, your sleep will be haunted by images from some of the most gruesome murders that the author Dr B Umadathan describes. But don’t stop reading yet. We promise you that its finally the cleverness of the mystery that’ll keep you awake.
Dead Men Tell Tales is a memoir of Dr Umadathan, a noted forensic surgeon in Kerala. The book was first published in Malayalam as Oru Police Surgeonte Ormakkurippukal in 2010. The English version released this year, two years after the doctor’s demise. In this book, the author takes you through several post mortem and forensic investigations that he has conducted, throughout his career. The book was translated from Malayalam to English by Priya K Nair, an English teacher of St Teresa’s College, Ernakulam, Kerala. Priya too agrees that the book is not an easy bedtime read. However, she enjoyed translating every bit of it. “The translation was rather easy. I did not have to spend a lot of time looking for forensic jargon,” she says.
Umadathan was popularly known as the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Kerala’. So, if you’ve loved the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this one’s going to be a safe bet. Sir Doyle’s characters were figments of his imagination, but all the people that Umadathan talks about here are real and were alive at some point. He begins the book by explaining his life as a medical student at the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College and later developing an interest in forensic medicine. The reason behind this may either be the corpse of a person who died by suicide, which he witnessed as a child or his admiration for his professor Dr Kandaswamy. However, the precision with which he reminds each case that he investigated and each corpse on which he performed a post mortem leaves one flabbergasted. The book reaffirms the reader’s faith in the judicial system and that there is nothing called a perfect crime. Every criminal and every murderer drops behind a piece of evidence.
For instance, in a particular case, a corpse was exhumed, weeks after the burial. This was because the dead person’s son noticed a peculiar hole on his father’s shirt that he wore on the day of his death. Investigation and forensic research later proved that it was a murder. Earlier, people had assumed that it was death due to cardiac arrest. In another chapter, he explains the famous Chacko murder case in detail. The upcoming Malayalam film Kurup that stars Dulquer Salmaan is based on this particular case. Umadathan walks us through the entire case about how Sukumara Kurup, a fugitive staged his own death and how the doctor’s team exposed the ploy.
For Priya, the one case that struck her the most was the death of Soman, a Police Sub Inspector. “I had read a lot about this case as a child. It was interesting to find how it all unfolded,” she says. The book also touches upon Umadathan’s personal life his friendships, family and his short stay in Libya. The author refuses to see everything as black and white, and explores the greys in between. His emphasis on mental health and criticism of societal evils is commendable. Dead Men Tell Tales remind us that sometimes the tales that the dead tell you have a greater impact than the others.
Book: Dead Men Tell Tales
Price: Rs 399
Publisher: HarperCollins India