three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
user_rating: 
0

A-UnpardonableCrimeEngland 1819, just outside of London. Naïve schoolmaster Thomas Shield has two 10-year-old pupils who look like twins. One is Charlie Frant, the spoiled son of a banker, and the other is Edgar Allen Poe. One day Shield, the narrator, encounters a man with an unsavory interest in the two boys. The young teacher attempts to intervene, only to be pulled into Charlie’s troubled family life. Cue the murders, the embezzlement, the widowed heiress—and the unadvised love across class boundaries.
Hyperion. 485 pages. $24.95.

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"This is a book that creates its own atmosphere almost with opening to any page—a work of superlative fiction that deepens our clouded understanding of Poe." Brian Richard Boylan

Detroit Free Press 4 of 5 Stars
"You don’t have to be a fan of Edgar Allan Poe to enjoy Andrew Taylor’s new thriller. … I’m telling you, don’t go in the drawing room!" Susan Hall-Balduf

The Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Taylor’s sweeping mystery tale is populated by innocents, eccentrics and evildoers whose lives twist, turn and overlap in a brilliantly intricate pattern. … This is a stunning mystery: intelligent, ambitious in its construction, moving and, as befits its Poe-ish origins, genuinely frightening." Maureen Corrigan

People Magazine 3 of 5 Stars
"Despite the shopworn elements, Taylor constructs an entertaining, sometimes enchanting, world." Ron Givens

Charlotte Observer 3 of 5 Stars
"The intricately constructed mystery has all the twists and turns a reader could desire, but the pace occasionally falters over recited summaries of events that neither advance the plot nor significantly deepen the reader’s sense of time and place." Nancy Northcott

NY Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel is in effect about its research and plotting … and not about the interior of these beings, who are alien and yet our cousins. There are a lot of period details, but not much sense of what they had to do with being alive in the period." Frederick Busch

Critical Summary

Unpardonable Crime, titled after Poe’s story "William Wilson," is a "maelstrom of a tale that features duplicitous servants, femmes fatale, ancestral piles, stolen jewels, missing fingers" and many other thrilling characters and twists, according to The Washington Post. The novel is creepy, grisly fun that cribs set pieces from Dickens, James, the Brontës, and, of course, Poe. Most critics praise the author’s rich evocation of Regency England, even if he occasionally goes overboard with the doom and gloom. Only The New York Times criticized the long-winded summaries, cardboard characters, unnecessary foreboding, and unpleasant amount of period detail. Consider yourself duly warned.