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The Blackest Bird: A Novel of Murder in Nineteenth-Century New York Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 17, 2007

3.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rose (New York Sawed in Half) takes on one of the most celebrated unsolved murders in New York City history—the 1841 killing of Mary Rogers—in this historical whodunit, but doesn't make the most of its potential. Rogers, an attractive young woman, achieved local notoriety as a sales clerk at a Manhattan tobacco shop whose clientele included such notable authors as James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe. After the discovery of the victim's mutilated body, Jacob Hays, the city's high constable, who makes a somewhat plodding and colorless detective, quickly narrows his scrutiny to Poe, whose second Dupin story was based on the case. While the author provides a convincing portrait of the New York literary world of the day, crime fans may be disappointed that the mystery's solution comes out of left field with no evidence to support it. This novel should get a lift from Daniel Stashower's recent factual study of the Rogers murder, The Beautiful Cigar Girl. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Sixty-nine-year-old High Constable Jacob Hays is facing a long, hot summer in 1841. The soaring temperatures are nothing compared to the heat being generated by the sensation-seeking newspapers and the vicious gangs that rule the New York neighborhoods known as the Five Points. When Mary Rogers, a pretty clerk at a tobacco shop, is found brutally murdered in the Hudson River, Hays is charged with the search for her killer. A long-respected lawman known for creating a new interrogation technique called the third degree, Hays is starting to feel the full weight of his position, caught between public outrage and political red tape. High on his list of suspects is the eccentric poet Edgar Allan Poe, who freely admits that he was in love with the "cigar girl." Rose (New York Sawed in Half, 2001) creates a compelling portrait of nineteenth-century New York as well as fascinating, deeply flawed characters. At the center of his novel is the dissolute Poe, dressed in a tattered coat, heavily addicted to opium, and convinced of his own genius. Part history, part mystery, and thoroughly entertaining. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (March 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393062317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062311
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,624,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on March 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In 1841, New York City is bound in a unique social construct, the city teeming with Americans of every walk of life, the very wealthy, the great working class and a rich pool of literary talent, all juxtaposed with newspapers that fight for readership, corrupt backroom politics and gangs of leatherheads who compete as fire brigades, the city a microcosm of a rapidly changing world. One impressive figure, Jacob Hays, High Commissioner of New York City for forty-two years, is notably the city's first detective, at the time sixty-nine years old, with no plans for retirement in spite of his advancing years. His office located in the newly built prison, the euphemistically named "Tombs", "Old Hays" has his finger on the pulse of the city as a series of murders give the newspapers no end of speculation.

The most notorious murder is that of Mary Rogers, a woman with many admirers who has graced a local tobacconist's shop that serves as a gathering place for such luminaries as James Fennimore Cooper, Washington Irving, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe, all of whom reflect the bizarre balance of dramatic Victorian fiction, poetry and a journalism defined by sensationalism. The city's appetite whetted by the brutal murder of the striking young woman, another outrageous crime focuses attention on the unexpected slaying of writer/publisher Charles Adams by John C Colt, brother of the inventor of the Colt revolver, an influential family. After his trial Colt is sentenced to die, his quarters in the Tombs markedly different from the other prisoners, attended to by a manservant, his cell obscured by draperies, meals delivered by the finest restaurants.
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Format: Paperback
On the surface, The Blackest Bird is about a murder, introducing readers to rich characters and a gritty, budding New York, but the drama unfolds to reveal at its heart, the literary figure of Edgar Allan Poe. Many a novel has attempted to fictionalize Poe with varying results, but Joel Rose has probably been the most successful in painting the proper patchwork of ego, madness and genius without having the poet come off as a pure fop. Rose is able to cast the reader back to a simpler and darker time filled with corruption and politics, scandal and decorum with the careful turn of a phrase and execution of dialogue. The story is an intriguing mystery filled with shadows and ultimately vague yet plausible answers that hang in the air of the fiction, to beckon consideration to the aspects borrowed from reality. Its only vice is that it may have held the suspense just a shade too long.
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Format: Paperback
In this novel, the reader follows a multitude of characters and their individual stories set against the backdrop of New York City in the mid-1800's. At the end of the novel the main mystery is solved and each story is intertwined with those of the other characters.

I freely admit that I started reading this book with rather high expectations, which may have set me up for failure from the beginning. I generally enjoy mysteries and always find myself entranced when the storylines of multiple characters are intertwined in clever ways. However, this book failed to live up to my expectations.

The aspect of the book which I probably enjoyed the most was the author's writing. Joel Rose was very descriptive when it came to settings and characters movements. He was also faithful in using the type of language that people in the mid-1800's would have used.

That being said, Rose's story dragged on. The exposition understandably took a long time as there were many characters being introduced. However, there was no reason for the rising action to be as long and tedious as it was. Out of a 475-page long story it probably took up 300 pages. Much of this time was wasted on causing Hays (the constable of the novel) to continuously seek new answers from the same people and outlets. It was frustrating and honestly felt as though the author was just trying to add more pages to his novel. During this time new information only came to light sporadically. Once Old Hays (as he is often referred to in the book) finally pieces together all of the clues the mystery quickly unravels.

Overall, this novel lacked the mystery aspect that should have had me enthralled with the story. Instead, I was often bored and not inclined to pick up this book and read. I only recommend this book to people interested in the time period and not mystery lovers.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of those irritating "historical" novels that have virtually nothing to do with actual history. To recap some of the more notable oddities: 1.Poe never had an affair with Mary Rogers--in fact, there is no reason to believe he ever so much as laid eyes on the woman. 2.There is also no evidence that Poe was ever unfaithful to his wife at all--with Fanny Osgood or anyone else. This fictional portrayal of Poe actually has practically no resemblance to the real man in any sense. 3.As the author himself rather shamelessly admits in his afterword, there is no evidence that the novel's murderer had, in reality, anything to do with his victim. Rose was certainly free to concoct any completely fictional scenarios he chose, but why did he have to tack the names of real people onto them? Is there no compunction anymore about libeling the dead? Has Rufus W. Griswold been transformed into a role model for some of these novelists? Ironically, the book would have been much more convincing if Rose had eschewed trying to use real people and had instead stuck to pure invention. The scenes where he simply describes the milieu of 1840s New York are the most successful in the entire novel.

To top it off, this novel is way too long, and extremely dull and pointless in spots. It was a real effort to get to the conclusion, and when I realized that it had nothing to do with the actual facts surrounding the Mary Rogers murder, I felt rather cheated. In short, I found the book to be a waste of time.
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