two-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-The Poe ShadowIn 1849 Edgar Allan Poe, 40, visited a Baltimore tavern and died shortly thereafter. Labeled a drunk, he was buried in an unmarked grave. Quentin Clark, a Baltimore attorney, vows to rescue his literary hero’s reputation. Hoping to solve the mystery of Poe’s death, Clark delves into the circumstances surrounding his last days and hunts down, in Paris, the real-life model for Poe’s legendary fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin, of The Murders in the Rue Morgue. But as Clark approaches the truth, he finds himself enmeshed in duplicitous dealings that may threaten his life.
Random House. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1400061032

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Pearl is a detailed historian, flooding the story with arcane Poe facts and trivia from this time. … The Poe Shadow works well on two levels: It’s effective history, sure to please fans of Edgar Allan Poe, and also it can stand alone as a fine piece of mystery writing, brimming with suspense." Gary Williams

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"Like its predecessor, this novel not only sets itself in an earlier time, it adopts the literary style of its subject. … Pearl evokes his absent hero with longer sentences, often twisted into internal dialogues full of the kind of obsessive asides that lace Poe’s work." Clea Simon

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Baroquely orchestrated complications ensue, up to and including a threat to the future of the French republic. … Although Pearl has a real affinity for 19th-century America, he overwhelms the strengths of his book with a hurricane of ersatz Victorian prose." Claire Dederer

Wall Street Journal 1.5 of 5 Stars
"I kept waiting for The Poe Shadow to seize on the kind of primal fear Poe exploited so well—say, of suffocation (‘The Premature Burial’) or of being caught red-handed (‘The Tell-Tale Heart’)—and pick up speed. But it doesn’t." John Freeman

Miami Herald 1 of 5 Stars
"While meticulously researched and painstaking in its re-creation of the 19th century, The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl plods so mercilessly that reading it evokes the opening line of Poe’s disturbing short story Berenice: ‘Misery is manifold.’" Connie Ogle

Critical Summary

Matthew Pearl’s best-selling The Dante Club (2003) successfully meshed history, literature, and mystery. Though he tries to duplicate this formula and honor a great American writer, The Poe Shadow fails to garner similar interest. First, Pearl’s attempt to echo 19th-century prose is fusty and verbose. Second, Clark, though he has his eccentricities, is rather "poor company" (Wall Street Journal). Third, while the subplots offer intrigue, they rarely advance the plot and never attain the macabre tone of Poe’s tales. The historical context, however (though weighed down by ponderous if meticulous research), provides new insights into Poe’s personal life and literary career. The verdict: for Poe (or Pearl) fans only.