Meh vs. Yeah!

I’ve had my nose buried in two somewhat gruesome books recently. The first, Murder Aboard: the Herbert Fuller Tragedy and the Ordeal of Thomas Bram by C. Michael Hiam, tells the story of a lumber ship due to sail from Boston to Argentina that ends up in Nova Scotia after multiple passengers are murdered, including its captain. It takes the reader through the subsequent trial of first mate Thomas Bram, a high-profile murder case at the time, but little-known now.

It sounded like a great yarn and I was hoping for a gripping, meaty tale full of characters in the vein of something Erik Larson would write. In the end, it felt like a story Larson would have considered and then abandoned for lack of material. Hiam gets the majority of his details from the dry court testimony, which he admits fairly far into the book, is incomplete. As a result, the people involved aren’t fully fleshed-out human beings that the reader feels they know, never mind empathize with. I never got enough of a feel for any of the ship’s crew to care about who did it or who may have been falsely accused. In a much shorter version, it might have been an interesting addition to some sort of murder-at-sea anthology. But at 240 pages it wasn’t much more enlightening than flipping through the court testimony yourself.

The other book, however, The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth by Thomas Morris, is an absolute hoot. Morris has combed through old medical journals from around the world and highlighted the most amusingly horrifying medical conditions imaginable (or unimaginable, more accurately). The exploding teeth are the least remarkable of the stories and if you have a fascinated delight for learning about the weird shit that people will put in their bodies, this will become your personal bible. I’m still only halfway through, but have already spent most of my time reading it laughing, while also groaning in disgust.

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