Edgar Allan Poe died under very mysterious circumstances. He was dazed and confused, calling for somebody who has never been identified and not in the place he was supposed to be. As it was so long ago, we may never know the truth. However, Matthew Pearl has done some extensive research using various documents and pieces of evidence from the time and has come to his own original conclusion. He has also brought together the other leading theories on the matter.
You might expect theories about Poe’s death to form a fairly interesting non-fiction book – and they probably would. However, The Poe Shadow tells the fictional story of a lawyer named Quentin Hobson Clark who had been a big Poe fan and who had had lots of written correspondence with him. Upon his death (and heavy criticism in the newspapers) Quentin is determined to solve the mystery of his death so that misinformation can stop being spread about his favourite author. In order to help solve this mystery, he decided to locate the real life version of Poe’s famous detective character, C. Auguste Dupin. What ensues is a very interesting story with many unexpected twists and turns.
Matthew Pearl has used this book to very sincerely put forward his own theories about Poe’s death. They seem very legitimate and they alone are worth reading this book for. He’s also used this book to tell a really good story. I found the main character, Quentin, quite endearing as he always seems to be mentally a few steps behind everybody else in the story. He’s a very naive man and he never really does anything bad out of malice and I think he’s the kind of person a lot of people will like. The whole story is told from his perspective and it’s nice to see the relationships he has with the different people in his life.
But, for me, the real appeal was Dupin (or, Duponte as he is known in this book.) If you’ve not read the original stories you should (I have reviewed them) as I think they add an interesting dimension to the novel. Duponte is very much like the Dupin of the original stories, except with an added element of humanity which fleshed him out and made him even more interesting to me. It’s also interesting to see the character used to solve a real life mystery, as it reminds me a lot of how he was used in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.” The character’s relationship to the original stories is also nice (it’s not just a case of those stories being real) and is taken in some very exciting and unexpected directions.
Overall, this book does four things that I love. It creates an entirely new character in the form of Quentin and lets us explore his life and his relationships. It reinvents the character of Dupin and lets us get a really interesting new perspective on him. It creates its own mystery which ties in to French politics of the 19th century, which is rather intriguing. And finally (and most significantly) it tries to answer some questions about the death of Edgar Allan Poe, without losing sight of the fact that his death was a tragedy like any other and not a simple point of academic interest. There’s some genuine emotion in this book which helps to hold together a compelling and exciting mystery novel. It’s only flaw, in my eyes, is that it is a little too long.
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