The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl, 2006

I picked up that book at the library last week because the plot was incredibly attractive : investigating and finding the truth about the death of Edgar Allan Poe !

Matthew Pearl, teacher at Emerson and Harvard, seemed to have found the perfect thriller topic for a classics nerd like me ! I was hooked !

The action takes place in 1851, in Baltimore (the city in which Poe died) and the main character is a young lawyer, keen on literature, Quentin Clark. This young man discovers Poe’s works by reading Murders in the Rue Morgue and he recognizes there the sign of true genius. He starts writing to E. A. Poe about the poem The Raven. The last lines of the poem raise a question for which he cannot find a solution :

“And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor ;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted – nevermore ! “

The two men exchange a few letters in which Poe talks about the magazine he wants to publish. Unfortunately, Poe dies and that event changes Quentin’s life. He is not convinced by the official version of Poe’s death and starts investigating by himself. By doing that, he loses his best friend and the woman he thinks he loves. His investigations will take him to Paris, where he will meet (and hire) the man whom Poe used as a model for his detective character, Auguste Dupin. He’ll also find a villain, Baron Dupin.

All this little tribe goes back to the USA to pursue the investigation.

At the beginning, I was quite charmed by the atmosphere and the style of the book. It reminded me of Arthur Conan Doyle ‘s stories. Quentin seemed to be Watson’s double when Duponte would have been Holmes’s. As I was going further in my reading, it actually started to annoy me. Quentin appeared so naive that he’d make you roll your eyes and Duponte acted like a diva with few noticeable results. Oh, I bet, he will reveal everything at the very last page in a magnificent speech (if I don’t strangle him before that). All the discoveries, Quentin does are incredible coincidences, he happens to know a fisherman (one of his clients actually but read on it’s getting interesting) who happens to have a sister whose husband knows a nurse who talked to a doctor who was there while Poe was expiring and reported Poe’s last words (yes, seriously). The Baron Dupin, as the villain, is less than convincing and doesn’t hinder the duo of detectives.

I’m now a little after the half of the book and the only reason I’m still reading is because it is based on actual discoveries about Poe’s death. I could close the bool and read the Wikipedia article I guess, but I really don’t like giving up on a book (so far, there are only three books I never finished)

For now, I’d give it a 3/10.

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