Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Book Review: The Poe Shadow

This book was another find at a used book sale.  Of course, you're thinking; where else would she get books?

by Matthew Pearl
copyright 2006

This book has a beautiful dust jacket.  The paper is heavy and a little textured; as you can see, the art is nice.  The lettering is raised and shiny.  Historical fiction?  Perfect; it's a genre I just love.

Quentin Clark is a lawyer in Baltimore in 1849, son of a lawyer who left him a well established legal practice and a comfortable amount of money, along with a very nice house.  He's engaged to a girl he's known all of his life, Hattie.  He's had a passing acquaintanceship with Edgar Poe (who did not use the name Allen during his lifetime, due to a disagreement with his foster father), and corresponded with the man to some degree.  Quentin Clark has even agreed to help finance the magazine Edgar Poe is trying to start.  So he was stunned one morning to awaken and find a small article in his morning paper announcing that Edgar Poe had died.

Quentin becomes obsessed with finding out the truth of the circumstances surrounding the death of Edgar Poe; he neglects his law practice, leaving it to his best friend and law partner, Peter, to carry on.  He neglects his fiancee, Hattie, causing her aunt to forbid Hattie to marry Quentin.  He carries on for more than two years, writing to various people he believes might have been the model for Poe's super-sleuth, Dupin, and ultimately traveling to Paris to meet two of those men.

It was a great premise. It should have been a fine book.  However, it was just too drawn out.  Fully half of the book, right in the middle, was spent with Quentin watching August DuPonte, the man he decided was "the real Dupin", read newspaper articles from two years earlier, when Poe had died, running errands, etc.  The beginning of the book was not much better, and the end of the book was more drawn out yet.  Worse still, I never understood Quentin's empetus in devoting his life to solving this mystery, to the point of losing his livelihood, his fiancee, and even having a relative sue to take away his house, and losing 3 years of his life in the process.  While I was reading this book, I actually stopped to read not one, but TWO, Kindle books by P. G. Wodehouse, recommended by a reviewer in the Wall Street Journal, to relieve my brain.  I really finished this book because I wanted to find out what the author had concluded was the real cause of Poe's death.  His afterward makes clear that he did myriad historical research and had, in fact, reached a conclusion which could have been reached at that time.  So, Mr. Pearl, while you may be a bestselling author, this book only merits a 2/5.


SissySees said...

Thanks for the warning. Poe is rather a local "son" and I was wondering why I hadn't heard of this book... Hem. ;)

Sue said...

Oh sorry to hear that it's a bore. When we lived just outside Baltimore we visited Poe's house and the cemetery where he's buried. If you'd said this was good, I'd have started looking for it. As it is, I have enough boring books and don't need another.

Blond Duck said...

I hate slow books like that.

Anonymous said...

You are more tenacious than I, because won't finish a book that doesn't engage me.

I always finish Wodehouse.

Dexter said...

A book about watching somebody read? Pass.

Mango Momma