Dead men don't tell tales.
Their voices are forever silenced, their fingers will never point to what happened to them or why. Their eyes will never widen in fear or anticipation, or glance in the direction of the guilty. Dead men don't tell tales but, as in the new book "What the Dead Know" by Barbara Butcher, they leave clues that can speak volumes.
Throughout most of her teen years, Barbara Butcher says she was miserable.
She suffered from depression and anxiety, the fact that she was a lesbian was dawning, and she felt awkward. When a high school friend introduced her to the "fun" of drugs, sex, and alcohol, though, everything changed. Butcher's life was suddenly all about getting high.
After a work supervisor saw potential and urged her to attend college, Butcher landed a great job as a hospital administrator. Still, love eluded her, addictions nagged at her, depression hit, she thought about suicide, and everything fell apart. Once she hit bottom, she started attending AA, which led to a vocational and rehab course and an aptitude test that gave her two options: veterinarian or coroner. She chose the latter.
Working as an MLI (medicolegal investigator) at New York City's OCME (Office of the Chief Medical Examiner) was an exciting and interesting job. Butcher was, at first, the OCME's only female MLI in a pool of several male MLIs who immediately tried to test her by showing her detailed, gruesome photographs of real accidents and murders. Scaring her off didn't happen and soon, she was working with people she admired, running her own shifts, going out to investigate the worst that New Yorkers did to one another.
There were bodies in picnic coolers. There was a suicide that wanted to take someone with him in death. There were car accidents, shootings, people dead on sidewalks and abandoned hovels, and jumpers. Every one of them taught Butcher one thing.
"Dead men do tell tales. You just have to listen."
Weak-stomached readers, you can stop right here. You're going to want to steer clear of this book because it's not for you. True crime fans, though – look, why are you waiting?
"What the Dead Know" starts out with an edge-of-your-seat investigation that ends in up-the-spine chills. Even the setting is uber-creepy, described in minute, water-dripping, rats-on-the-floor detail. The opening pages give you a glimpse of what you're in for.
And yet, author Barbara Butcher knows when to let her readers take a gasping breath, and her story quickly and immediately flips after the opening to become a biography with its own dark feel. Don't get too comfortable, though: you'll have a chance to relax your shoulders but the elevator with your adrenaline inside will continue to glide to the top floor before dropping back down again and again.
This book can be somewhat grisly in places, but certainly nothing worse than any other true-crime story or Hollywood movie. If you love that genre, then you'll want this. "What the Dead Know" is a very good tale.
"What the Dead Know: Learning about Life as a New York City Death Investigator" by Barbara Butcher
c.2023, Simon & Schuster $28.99 288 pages