Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Poe Shadow: A Novel by Matthew Pearl

Sometimes I feel as though I have let Edgar Allan Poe down. Though a big fan as a youth, I have not returned to his writings, though they are still on my to-read-sometime list. Also, I have failed him as a tourist. When visiting Richmond, Virginia back in 2002, I arrived at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum just as it was closing and failed to get in. That same year I went to Baltimore where I uncharacteristically got lost and never found the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. If I am ever invited to read at a poetry program, I plan to perform "The Raven" in the manner of Vincent Price, but it has never happened.

In The Poe Shadow: A Novel by Matthew Pearl, Quentin Clark of Baltimore was determined that he would not fail the poet, whom he had never actually met. Clark had sent Poe several letters expressing his appreciation of the author's poems and short stories. Poe had ignored most of these but just before his death had responded with a suggestion that he would like Clark to be his attorney for an upcoming publishing venture. Clark was honored and eagerly waited for the day that never came. Poe mysteriously died and was quietly buried in Baltimore in October 1849.

When muckraking newspapers began to speculate about Poe's movements during his last week and why he had died, Clark began his own investigation. His law partner and great aunt immediately tried to stop him, which, of course, egged him on. As the newspaper accounts became more lurid and contradictory, Clark became more determined and began neglecting his practice, fiancee, and home. He then went to Paris to contact the French detective whom he was certain was Poe's model for C. Auguste Dupin in The Murders in the Rouge Morgue. If anyone could solve the mystery, it was Auguste Duponte.

The Poe Shadow is just the kind of fiction that appeals to me, for I most like to learn about other times and places. Pearl has cleverly used a true mystery as a basis for this literary novel. As he explains in the "Historical Notes" in the back of the book, nearly every character, except for Clark, his partner, his aunt, his fiancee, and two Frenchmen who pose as the true Dupin, was an associate of the real Edgar Allan Poe. Pearl explains the details of the case that he utilizes. He even claims to have made a few significant discoveries of his own during his Poe research.

I chose to read Pearl's book after hearing about his new title The Last Dickens: A Novel. He has also written a novel about Dante. All of these books should be in most public libraries.

Pearl, Matthew. The Poe Shadow: A Novel. Random House, 2006. ISBN 1400061032


dg said...

The thing I really like about Pearl's novels is that the "famous guys' deaths" are not only gimmicky window-dressing to get you to buy the book, the mysteries surrounding their deaths and their unfinished works are actually at the core of Pearl's plots.

Happy reading!

ricklibrarian said...


As I read, I wondered how much was true. From what I saw afterward, much of it was factual. Glad you, too, enjoyed the book.