The Death Dealers

The Death Dealers
The Death Dealers  
Author(s) Isaac Asimov
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Mystery
Publisher Avon
Publication date 1958
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 189 pp

The Death Dealers is a mystery novel by Isaac Asimov published in 1958 (later republished as A Whiff of Death). It is about a university professor whose research student dies while conducting an experiment. The professor attempts to determine if the death was accidental or planned.

Plot summary

One Thursday afternoon, Prof. Brade goes to visit his graduate student's laboratory. He finds Ralph Neufeld dead, having inhaled hydrogen cyanide. (This is perhaps a grim echo of Ralph's connection with the Holocaust, as hydrogen cyanide was the lethal agent used by the Nazis in their gas chambers.) In his experiment, he had somehow used sodium cyanide instead of sodium acetate, both white powders. Later, Brade is questioned by Detective Doheny, who is in charge of Ralph's case. When he gets home, he reveals to his wife his suspicions that Ralph's death was murder. She cautions him not to tell this to anyone, as he would destroy any chance of getting associate professorship and tenure. The next day, he meets with the emeritus Cap Anson, who seems to blame him for Ralph's death. They visit the zoo together, and Anson encourages Brade to go into comparative biochemistry. Brade refuses, saying he wants to continue Ralph's work in chemical kinetics. That night, he attends a departmental get-together at Chairman Littelby's, and becomes so fed up with the other professors blaming him for the death that he puts his job on the line and accuses them back. He is also disrespectful to Littelby with a nearly outright demand for tenure. On Sunday, he reads through Ralph's research notebooks and realizes that Ralph's data had been faked, a cardinal sin in chemistry. When Doheny returns, he tells him about the faking, suggesting it as a possible motive for suicide. Doheny, however, twists it around and says that Brade might have been trying to protect his own reputation by hiding the fraud. The next day, after his lectures in the university, he again meets with Cap Anson, and immediately afterward in the lab, nearly triggers a chemical reaction which would have killed him. Now resolved to solve the mystery, he questions student Roberta Goodhue in the presence of Doheny. She admits that she and Neufeld had had an argument about the faked data. The only person who could have overheard was Cap Anson. Doheny then tricks Anson into revealing that he knows about the attempt on Brade's life and Anson confesses.


  • Louis Brade – an assistant professor of organic chemistry.
  • Doris Brade – his wife.
  • Ralph Neufeld – a paranoid research student of Brade. From Europe. Survivor of "something unpleasant" in which father and sister were killed (possibly the Holocaust?).
  • Cap Anson – an organic chemist and Brade's former teacher.
  • Roberta Goodhue – another research student of Brade.
  • Merill Foster – an assistant professor of organic chemistry. Colleague of Brade.
  • Otto Ranke – a physical chemist. Colleague of Brade.
  • Arthur Littelby – head of Brade's department.
  • Jack Doheny – a policeman.

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