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The Poe Shadow: A Novel Paperback – July 10, 2007

3.2 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pearl's second historical thriller involving literary figures (after 2003's The Dante Club) is set in 1849, when young lawyer Quentin Clark's desire to burnish the tarnished reputation of his favorite author-poet, the recently deceased Edgar Allan Poe, drives him to such extremes he eventually winds up on trial for insanity and murder. His defense forms the novel. Singer provides Clark with a splendidly appropriate voice: young, intelligent, yet naïve and idealistic. He's also adept at capturing the attorney's shifting moods, from his indignation at journalists' shoddy sendoff of Poe (labeling him a debaucher and drunk) to an increasing obsession as he puts his practice and his impending marriage on hold, ocean-hopping to Europe to seek the aid of the real-life model for Poe's genius-sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin. Some listeners may raise an eyebrow at Singer's use of fractured French for one of the Dupins and an equally arch British accent for the other. They should be reminded that all of the characters are being filtered through the sensibilities (and vocal capabilities) of a not terribly sophisticated Baltimore barrister. Simultaneous release with Random House hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 13).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Matthew Pearl's best-selling The Dante Club (2003) successfully meshed history, literature, and mystery. Though he tries to duplicate this formula and honor a great American writer, The Poe Shadow fails to garner similar interest. First, Pearl's attempt to echo 19th-century prose is fusty and verbose. Second, Clark, though he has his eccentricities, is rather "poor company" (Wall Street Journal). Third, while the subplots offer intrigue, they rarely advance the plot and never attain the macabre tone of Poe's tales. The historical context, however (though weighed down by ponderous if meticulous research), provides new insights into Poe's personal life and literary career. The verdict: for Poe (or Pearl) fans only.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; Reprint edition (July 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812970128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812970128
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is difficult to be overly critical of "The Poe Shadow", as Matthew Pearl's illumination of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe's life makes for a fascinating tale. The extent and detail of Pearl's research is evident - this is clearly a labor of love - and the author deserves full credit for his diligence and for his efforts in updating the historical record. The problem is an uneven pace that, while riveting in parts becomes tedious in others and, despite being a unique and often gripping window into the life of an American genius, tends to drag beyond its initial appeal.

"Shadow" tackles Poe's mysterious death in Baltimore in 1849 at the young age of 40. While fiction, the author goes to great lengths to remain true to the historical record, while uncovering and disclosing new facts to bolster his own theory surrounding Poe's ill-fated plans to travel from Richmond to New York in his final days. Told through the journals of the fictional Quinton Clark, a young and well-to-do attorney, the narrative is written in the vernacular of the period - a style that takes some getting used to and definitely requires more attention from the reader than the typical pop thriller. The story opens with Clark's chance observation of a burial, notable in its scant attendance and absence a grave marker. The burial, of course, was Poe's, but the contemporary press was kind to neither the author's work nor the circumstances surrounding his death. Clark, a fan of Poe's works and sometimes correspondent, vows to find the real life inspiration for Poe's C. Auguste Dupin, detective extraordinaire and hero of a number of Poe tales, including "The Murders in the Rue Morgue". By finding the real Dupin and enlisting his help, Clark figures the truth behind the author's demise will be uncovered.
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Format: Hardcover
I recently read and loved Matthew Pearl's THE DANTE CLUB, so I grabbed THE POE SHADOW as soon as I saw it. The new book is to be admired for the artistic risks taken by the author in an era when few artistic risks are taken, but, alas, it just isn't the achievement that his previous literary historical fiction is.

In this outing, Pearl has taken up the very real confusing and thus mysterious circumstances of the early death of Edgar Allan Poe at age 40. Pearl has given Poe an obsessive fan, a young, affluent Baltimore lawyer, Quentin Clark, engaged to the perfect socialite, who is abhorred by the error-ridden, sensational accounts of his hero's unexpected death in the local media of 1849. Clark decides to investigate. Realizing that he is no Dupin, Poe's famous detective character, Clark goes to France to find Poe's real life model. Instead, he unwittingly opens a Pandora's box of French intrigue that returns to America with him, including the person he is sure is Dupin's model as well as a con-man impersonator. There ensues, as Clark risks losing everything, by turns the fiancé, the job his inheritance and his life, a competition to reveal the truth behind Poe's death.

For those still in the thrall of THE DANTE CLUB, THE POE SHADOW presents a problem because it is entirely told through Clark's unrelenting first person narrative. We are stuck with his voice, his myopic grasp of things and his naiveté. You want to kick him in the pants sometimes. Then there is the problem of Baltimore: the setting never becomes a character or imbues character as Boston does in the first book. It's just so much pavement under the action. The red herrings are bloated beyond relief, making what can be deduced as the truth as light as a feather.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed THE DANTE CLUB so much that halfway through it, I decided to buy Matthew Pearl's next novel, sight unseen and reviews unread.

In retrospect, this may have been a bit hasty on my part. In THE POE SHADOW, Pearl's choice to revisit the genre of historical literary mystery seems a bit forced. But before going any further, let me hasten to add that THE POE SHADOW contains many rewards. It gives a gritty and realistic description of the Baltimore of Poe's time, there are many amusing episodes, and the writing and mood are often beautifully wrought.

The bugaboo lies with the characters and plot. Our protagonist and narrator, Quentin Clark, is motivated by an obsession to clear the name of Edgar Allan Poe after the writer's death. This obsession is NEVER BELIEVABLE. It isn't logical, nor is it compellingly drawn. Now add in the fact that Quentin is also a gullible ninny who is prone to fainting spells. Mix in a creaking plot that takes a while to get moving down the tracks, and you have a tale suffering from bloat; it would, however, have made for a fine short story or novella.

Because of Pearl's prodigious skills at depiction and his obvious research, I'm rating THE POE SHADOW a bit more favorably than perhaps I should. Nonetheless, I suspect that I will still read Matthew Pearl's next work... AFTER taking a spin through its reviews.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm glad that I borrowed this book from the library so that I didn't feel compelled to finish it because I paid money for it. Although, I DID finish the book (I'm just weird that way). It was slow and ponderous at the beginning AND at the ending. I was truly happy to be done with it today so that I could check it back in and move on to some GREAT fiction!
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