‘Hugely entertaining, beguiling and atmospheric’ Observer (Books of the Year)
'A wonderful book, richly composed and beautifully written, an enthralling read from start to finish' The Times (Top Ten Crime Novels of the Decade)
'Creates an atmosphere close to Sarah Waters' Fingersmith … Deeply absorbing and beautifully written' Independent
'A most artful and delightful book, that will both amuse and chill, and it will have you desperate to search out a quiet corner to continue your acquaintance with it' Daily Telegraph (Books of the Year)
The American Boy is a historical novel, a murder mystery and a love story. I set out to write a Wilkie Collins novel set in Jane Austen's England - and with Edgar Allan Poe, then 10 years old, among the secondary characters. But Poe has more effect on the course of events than either he or the narrator Tom Shield realises.
In a way there are two narratives - the love story and murder mystery with the schoolmaster and Waterloo veteran Tom Shield at its heart; and the secret narrative of Poe and his imagination that flows like an underground river beneath.
Poe's mother was English. The novel takes as its starting point the fact that Poe as a boy spent five years in England with his foster parents. They lived in London, and Poe went to school in Stoke Newington, then a leafy village.
At that time, just after Waterloo, Great Britain was the world's solitary superpower. London was the greatest city ever known: Washington, New York and Los Angeles rolled into one with a dash of Las Vegas. It was also a huge building site, as the surrounding countryside disappeared beneath new houses, and new roads were punched through the maze of existing streets. Then as now, opulence rubbed shoulders with appalling poverty.
America, by contrast, was a brash little country, less than forty years old, on the edge of the civilised world. The recent War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain had ended in stalemate, despite the fact that the British captured Washington and burned the Capitol and the White House.
Poe's life was bracketed between two mysteries. First, when he was little more than a baby, his actor-father vanished. His English-born mother died soon afterwards, leaving him to the care of foster parents.
Second, Poe himself vanished, a few days before his death in 1849. He disappeared from Richmond, Virginia, and reappeared a week later in Baltimore, Maryland - in a state of mental agony and physical prostration. He said that the best thing a friend could do for him would be to blow out his brains with a pistol. Four days later he was dead. No one knows where he had been or what had happened to him, any more than they know what happened to his father.
These unresolved mysteries formed part of the inspiration for The American Boy. Edgar Allan Poe is the author of "The Raven", America's most famous poem, and one of the founding fathers of many branches of modern literature - among them the detective story, the ghost story, science fiction, and the psychological thriller. His admirers included Dickens and Baudelaire, Abraham Lincoln and Josef Stalin.
But his work and reputation are also known to people who rarely read a book. Like Sherlock Holmes and Dracula, Poe's creations have become part of our common culture. Poe has inspired musicians from Rachmaninov to Lou Reed. His works underpins films, plays, ballets and a Simpsons Halloween special. Michael Jackson is reported to be working on a movie in which he will play Poe. Poe's fascination with morbid psychology, with the dark secrets of the human heart, have a universal resonance.
For more information, try the excellent website of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Maryland