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2.6 out of 5 stars
The Poe Shadow
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I've always had a soft spot for the poetry and fiction of Edgar A. Poe, one of the greatest writers in American history, as well as the grandfather of whodunnits and modern horror.

And Matthew Pearl apparently has a soft spot too -- his follow-up to the bestselling "Dante Club" is a creepy, atmospheric, clever mystery surrounding the early death of Poe. The main character can be clueless, but it's made up for by genius detectives, retro writing, and musings on how a genius's art can affect others.

Edgar A. Poe is dead, unmourned and almost forgotten at the age of forty. This comes as a shock to pen pal Quentin Clark, who rapidly starts to suspect foul play. Even his recent engagement comes second to his wish to find out the facts. So he travels to Paris to find Auguste Duponte, the inspiration for Poe's brilliant C. Auguste Dupin, and convinces the reclusive ex-detective to come to Baltimore and solve the mystery.

Unfortunately, they are being followed by flashy Baron Dupin and his assassin wife; Dupin wants to make a name for himself, and pose as the REAL inspiration. Duponte ignores his obnoxious rival as he and Quentin go through Baltimore, collecting scant evidence, talking to witnesses and investigating Poe's own letters. But soon this investigation turns lethal, and Quentin finds himself as the primary suspect of Poe's death...

Edgar A. Poe's death is still something of a mystery, and people still debate what killed him. Rabies? Alcohol? TB? Nobody really knows, even now. So it was a brilliant stroke for Pearl to turn it into a murder mystery, complete with the real-life details as clues (such as Poe's dying cry of "Reynolds!"), and real-life people as characters.

Pearl writes like a 19th-century author transported to the 21st, with his true-to-the-time characterizations and slightly ornate prose. Even better, he spices up the whodunnit with meditations on genius -- how it can be misunderstood, how scandals can overshadow brilliant work, and even how great art can change our lives and free us from the mundane.

Atmospherically, it even resembles one of Poe's works. There are graveyards, misty streets, and the decayed grandeur of Baltimore. But Pearl includes a bit of comedy in the story, apparently to keep it from getting too grim, with the over-the-top Baron and his perky assassin/wife.

Quentin is probably the reigning flaw of the book. He's a naive, rather overeager young lawyer, but you'll want to kick him in the pants from time to time. But Duponte is a truly fascinating lead character in the vein of Poe's own writing, with his casual use of "ratiocination" (logical thinking) and his cool head.

"Poe Shadow" is not only a solid whodunnit, but a homage to one of the greatest American writers. Well-researched, dark and meditative, this is a wonderful historical mystery.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 February 2008
If, like me, you really enjoyed "The Dante Club", you should avoid "The Poe Shadow". Pearl revisits the "literary thriller", but this time the outcome is trully disappointing. There is no obvious "plot", just a rambling, repetitive narrative. The characters are flat, two-dimensional, and completely lacking in motivation. The entire book rests on the main character's obession with Edgar A. Poe, but the reader is never given a good reason for this obsession. The man is silly, shallow, and boring - rarely have I come across a main character who has no redeeming feature! The author also spends endless sections describing the Baltimore of the day, whose only purpose, really, is to show off the extensive historical research which he certainly undertook. And all this is served up in a contrived, annoying 19th century literary style. I literaly had to force myself to read through to the end.
I suggest you give this a pass; personally, I plan to give Pearl one more chance to make good on the promise of "The Dante Club", because this was certainly not it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2006
A superb thriller based on the mysterious death of Poe, and utilising some superb research by the author throwing new light on this 150+ year-old mystery!

The writing is excellent, true to the flavour of the period, but without being ponderous (unlike some other authors trying this style), anachronistic or - worst of all - modernly knowing and arch.

You can tell Pearl loves and knows the period, and Poe - so if you're a Poe afficionado, you'll love this book. But you don't have to be one to enjoy this engrossing historical thriller. You get a wonderful feel of 19th century Baltimore (and Paris), with enough action, twists and turns to keep you turning the pages.

And the new facts the author has uncovered have significantly added to what we know about Poe's last few tragic days, and perhaps solved one of the greatest mysteries in American and world literature.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 8 August 2006
Having read Dante Club with great pleasure, I was eagerly looking forward to Poe's Shadow, which sounded like a great idea for a historical/literary thriller. Unfortunately Poe's Shadow left me cold, bored and wondering where exactly it went wrong for Matthew Pearl... Maybe he focused too much on his (admitedly) meticulous research and undoubted passion for Poe and his writing, but the plot lacks interest, rambles on for pages and pages (which should have been edited considerably) and most of the time has nothing to do with Poe's death...Add to that characters lacking credibility and logic in their motivations and actions, and really annoying 19th century literary style and you have a book which you can safely put on your 'to avoid list'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 April 2010
I was looking forward to this book by Matthew Pearl after enjoying the Dante Club. However, it definitely didn't follow up on that particular book. It was dull and I had difficulty understanding why anyone would want to give up all that was going on around him to establish what happened to Edgar Allan Poe in his final days, just because he happened to like him as a writer. It's a bit like somone today investigating what happened in Michael Jackson's final days just because he liked Thriller. I clung on to the end though because I was hoping for a dramatic but totally rational explanantion of the events leading to his death and how these were uncovered but that never came.

As for the inspiring bits, well, the main character's stay in France and the ongoing mentions of the political situation there inspired me to go and find out more about events back then. Probably not what the author had in mind when he wrote this book, perhaps a few more converts to the work of Edgar Allan Poe rather than political history. Says it all really.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 February 2010
Usually this is just the sort of book I'd go for - a dark Gothic novel with elements of mystery. Unfortunately, for me, it was extremely difficult to get into the book. I never really built up much pathos for the central character. Pace was lacking at times, and I felt that too much of the action happened in the final few chapters.

I will freely admit that I'm not an Edgar Allen Poe fan particularly, so that may be one reason why I found all the historical detail distracting. The author obviously has a passion for the subject and has researched extensively, which is to be commended. However, I'm not sure that I'd read any of Pearl's future offerings.

This book was a disappointment.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2007
The Poe shadow is basically about a man trying to clear his favourite author's bad name by hiring a man he believes Poe's fictional detective(Dupin) is based on.

As the reviewers before me have pointed out, Pearl has done everything he can to make it factually correct in every aspect. Whilst some of it is intesting to know, a lot of it seems pointless and we are told the same details over and over again. It took me a long time to start enjoying the book and it does pick up in the last 150 or so pages so only buy if you are prepared to force yourself to keep going.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 September 2007
Pearl's latest foray into the literary thriller genre (following The Dante Club, which I did not read), revolves around the mysterious real-life death of Edgar Allen Poe. Our guide to mid-19th century Baltimore is wealthy young lawyer Quentin Clark -- a naive idealist and ardent Poe fan in an era where few cared for his macabre writings. The story open with Poe' death, ill-attended funeral, and a spate of ignominious obituaries, which spark Clark to try and clear his name. Alas, the book is far from thrilling, and falls flat on multiple fronts.

First and foremost, Quentin Clark makes for a poor guide and protagonist. His defining characteristic is an obsession for Poe and clearing Poe's name. This is so strong that it leads him to make all manner of improbable social, personal, and professional blunders. Unfortunately, as a motivation, it's never that convincing -- especially considering the serious effect it has on his life. Clark is otherwise totally uninteresting, and even somewhat annoying in his constant indignation. Secondly, while Pearl has done an admirable job of writing in the style of the period (the story is presented as a text written by Clark), the style of the period makes for clunky reading. It's stilted and mannered in a way that unfortunately only accentuates another big flaw -- the achingly slow pace of the story.

The bulk of the story involves Clark trying to track down the real-life inspiration for Poe's legendary detective, C. Auguste Dupin, and their joint efforts in Baltimore to learn the truth as to how Poe ended up delirious in a Baltimore tavern when he was supposed to be in Philadelphia. Pearl does a very nice job of bringing Baltimore to life, and there's clearly a lot of research behind the story. However, writing a novel to outline a possible scenario for what happened to Poe seems like overkill. The new evidence Pearl has uncovered is best suited to an essay or scholarly journal, and while weaving a novel around a few tidbit is certainly impressive in and of itself, the result is a clunky work that's only average at best.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Matthew Pearl's new novel deals with the mystery surrounding the last days of Edgar Allan Poe's life.

A Baltimore lawyer called Quentin Clark becomes obsessed by finding out the truth about Poe's death after the press make defamatory comments about him. Clark appears to lose everything in the quest and ends up being helped by two men who both claim to have provided the inspiration for Poe's famous detective, Dupin.

On the up side, you don't need to have more than a passing acquaintance with Poe's writing to understand the story...

On the down side, Pearl has made every effort to include the factual details known about Poe's final days (and outlined in the appendix) but he has done this at the expense of plot and character....

The book is incredibly repeatitive. I lost count of the amount of times Clark was hit over the head and then 'unable to remember anything'! There are flashes of brilliance, but these are few and far between and we are left with a stodgy narrative with little depth.

Hardcore Poe fans will enjoy but if you are looking for a good historical thriller, look somewhere else.

Also beware small print.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I've always had a soft spot for the poetry and fiction of Edgar A. Poe, one of the greatest writers in American history, as well as the grandfather of whodunnits and modern horror.

And Matthew Pearl apparently has a soft spot too -- his follow-up to the bestselling "Dante Club" is a creepy, atmospheric, clever mystery surrounding the early death of Poe. The main character can be clueless, but it's made up for by genius detectives, retro writing, and musings on how a genius's art can affect others.

Edgar A. Poe is dead, unmourned and almost forgotten at the age of forty. This comes as a shock to pen pal Quentin Clark, who rapidly starts to suspect foul play. Even his recent engagement comes second to his wish to find out the facts. So he travels to Paris to find Auguste Duponte, the inspiration for Poe's brilliant C. Auguste Dupin, and convinces the reclusive ex-detective to come to Baltimore and solve the mystery.

Unfortunately, they are being followed by flashy Baron Dupin and his assassin wife; Dupin wants to make a name for himself, and pose as the REAL inspiration. Duponte ignores his obnoxious rival as he and Quentin go through Baltimore, collecting scant evidence, talking to witnesses and investigating Poe's own letters. But soon this investigation turns lethal, and Quentin finds himself as the primary suspect of Poe's death...

Edgar A. Poe's death is still something of a mystery, and people still debate what killed him. Rabies? Alcohol? TB? Nobody really knows, even now. So it was a brilliant stroke for Pearl to turn it into a murder mystery, complete with the real-life details as clues (such as Poe's dying cry of "Reynolds!"), and real-life people as characters.

Pearl writes like a 19th-century author transported to the 21st, with his true-to-the-time characterizations and slightly ornate prose. Even better, he spices up the whodunnit with meditations on genius -- how it can be misunderstood, how scandals can overshadow brilliant work, and even how great art can change our lives and free us from the mundane.

Atmospherically, it even resembles one of Poe's works. There are graveyards, misty streets, and the decayed grandeur of Baltimore. But Pearl includes a bit of comedy in the story, apparently to keep it from getting too grim, with the over-the-top Baron and his perky assassin/wife.

Quentin is probably the reigning flaw of the book. He's a naive, rather overeager young lawyer, but you'll want to kick him in the pants from time to time. But Duponte is a truly fascinating lead character in the vein of Poe's own writing, with his casual use of "ratiocination" (logical thinking) and his cool head.

"Poe Shadow" is not only a solid whodunnit, but a homage to one of the greatest American writers. Well-researched, dark and meditative, this is a wonderful historical mystery.
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