The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
Baltimore, 1849. The body of Edgar Allan Poe has been buried in an unmarked grave. The public, the press, and even Poe’s own family and friends accept the conclusion that Poe was a second-rate writer who met a disgraceful end as a drunkard. Everyone, in fact, seems to believe this except a young Baltimore lawyer named Quentin Clark, an ardent admirer who puts his own career and reputation at risk in a passionate crusade to salvage Poe’s.
As Quentin explores the puzzling circumstances of Poe’s demise, he discovers that the writer’s last days are riddled with unanswered questions the police are possibly willfully ignoring. Just when Poe’s death seems destined to remain a mystery, and forever sealing his ignominy, inspiration strikes Quentin–in the form of Poe’s own stories. The young attorney realizes that he must find the one person who can solve the strange case of Poe’s death: the real-life model for Poe’s brilliant fictional detective character, C. Auguste Dupin, the hero of ingenious tales of crime and detection.
In short order, Quentin finds himself enmeshed in sinister machinations involving political agents, a female assassin, the corrupt Baltimore slave trade, and the lost secrets of Poe’s final hours. With his own future hanging in the balance, Quentin Clark must turn master investigator himself to unchain his now imperiled fate from that of Poe’s.
I almost gave up on this book so many times. At least half a dozen. But occasionally, a more redeeming passage with one of the better characters (Duponte or Bonjour) would convince me to keep reading. So I finished it.
Am I glad I did?
Yes, insofar as now I can read something else.
I read The Dante Club a few years ago for a class and really enjoyed it. Apparently, that was his first book, which usually means the second manages to be at least as good. Not in this case.
My biggest issue with this book is with Quentin himself. He literally gives up everything to try and clear the name of a man he’s never met and hardly knows. You know I love reading fiction, but there has to be at least a small piece of plausibility. Even when [SPOILER] he almost loses Hattie, he doesn’t give up. He almost loses the love of his life trying to solve the Poe case and still doesn’t seem to realize he’s on a fool’s errand?
I guess I never could identify enough with Quentin to understand why he invests so much in trying to solve Poe’s murder.
If you’re at all interested in this book, go read The Dante Club. Same style of book, same author, much better.