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).
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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.
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