Edgar Allan Poe was a caustic literary critic who doesn't get impressed easily. It was because of that, he crossed paths with another legendary figure in history - an indignant one at that - who was also the other prominent character in this tale of murder and mystery.
Displeased with Poe's scathing review of his very popular autobiography, David Crockett confronts the writer and demanded an apology, or to face him in a 'good old fashion knock down fight'. Poe was saved from having his butt kicked in when a ghastly murder was discovered at Crockett's hotel, the venue of the showdown. While the frontiersman's fame won instantaneous access and the policemen's trust (a little too trusting to be law enforcers, if you ask me), Poe's intelligent, although initially faulty deduction of the crime earned Crockett's grudging respect. It led to a partnership that united the brains (Poe) and the brawn (Crockett) - an unlikely duo equally keen on getting to the bottom of this gruesome killing. Poe was by no means a heroic person; that role was dominated by the big-hearted and almost "twinkish" character of Crockett. Poe squealed, screamed and swooned a surprising lot for a man in Nevermore.
The murders weren't over by far. More and more people in the city of Baltimore were found dead in the most horrible ways ever seen in that time and age. The only clue left by the killer was the word 'Nevermore' scrawled in blood. Poe and Crockett's independent investigation yielded a disturbing factor for our wordy protagonist - all the victims were present during a particular theatrical performance which starred his deceased mother, Eliza Poe.
Throughout the entire book, anyone who is familiar with Poe's actual work will have fun picking out his 'inspirations'. The secluded house belonging to a victim named Roger Asher became his inspiration for The Fall of the House of Usher. A masquerade party become the setting for several of his stories, while the discovery of a victim's body hidden under the floor planks of a house was of course the conclusion for tales like The Tell-Tale Heart. And then, there was the premature burial that almost became the undoing of our hero.
Writing from Poe's perspective, Schechter captured his spirit so well in this novel that a casual reader of Poe (such as myself) would go, "That's him!" Poe's character in this story comes off as pretentious and overly flamboyant - the man is incapable of saying; "I need food" like the rest of us, opting to express his hunger with something like, "I will require a moment to replenish myself with some victuals."
The cliff-hanger scenes are irritatingly followed by pages of Poe's personal musing before it resumes, slowing down the action and often making me scan quickly past the introspective rambling to find where the scene continues. The entire book reads like the author ran rumpus with the thesaurus, but oddly enough, it worked in conveying the narration of the dark genius that was Edgar Allan Poe.
"Call yourself a critic if you like," raged Crockett during their first meeting. "But to my way o' thinkin', you and your kind is nothin' but a bunch o' varminous crickets - useless little critters that ain't got nothin' better to do than pester other folks with a lot of bothersome noise."
If Poe wrote a novel, it'd probably look like this.
Rating: 4 fairies
Author: Harold Schechter