Friday, September 25, 2015

The Poe Shadow: Review

So...the common saying is that "the third time's the charm"--right? Not necessarily. A couple of challenges asked us to give a book we'd never been able to finish another try. So, I decided on The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl. I tried to read it a couple of times and just couldn't finish it. This year was the chance to change that. For good measure, I also added it to my TBR Pile list for Adam's challenge. That would ensure that I read the darn thing.

Okay. So, I did. And I didn't like it any better than the other two times I tried. The first attempt came after reading Pearl's The Dante Club--which was an excellent serial killer mystery. I enjoyed it so much that I went right out and got The Poe Shadow from the library and started to read it....and came to a screeching halt about 40 pages in. Then when Patty, my friend, gifted me a copy I gave it another go. I managed to get a bit further to my standard 100 pages and gave it up as a lost cause. This time round I finished it. And all I can say is....I'm glad that's over. 

Here's your basic peek at the plot: It's 1849 in Baltimore, Maryland. Edgar Allan Poe has just been buried, virtually unmourned, and his friends and family have all written him off as a drunken sot. Nobody seems to think there was anything odd about what happened to Poe. Except for Quentin Clark. Clark is a young lawyer who thinks Poe was the greatest writer ever and becomes obsessed with investigating the truth of Poe's death. He sets out to find the real August Dupin--the man Poe based his detective upon--to help him get to the bottom of a plot that seems to involve international political agents, a female assassin, and the dark, corrupt slave trade. Quentin will be marked insane and have to prove not only that his suspicions are correct but also that he has all his marbles. Otherwise, he's going to lose his friends, his career, his reputation, and the girl he loves....

This is such a disappointing book after The Dante Club. It's poorly plotted with a pace that moves about as quickly as a herd of turtles. It also makes no sense. Quentin's motivation for his intense obsession and willingness to give up his livelihood is murky at best and not really explained at all. It's very unclear whether all the plots and machinations are really happening or if he's imagining things. Pearl makes a great deal out nothing. And in the end, I just plain didn't care what happened to Poe and whether Quentin could prove it and get on with his life. Not because I don't think the death of Poe wasn't mysterious and that there couldn't be a story in it--but because as far as I can tell, Pearl didn't really make it into a story interesting enough to be worth telling. 

Quentin is also an extremely unsympathetic protagonist. He's annoying and creates difficulties and adversaries where he has no need. And for a lawyer, he's not terribly bright. The Dupin proto-type is constantly pointing out the most obvious things to him. He doesn't just miss the connections that a great detective would make--he misses connections that are all but labeled  "Look at THIS, this is important." One has to wonder why the girl would wait around for him to come to his senses and get his head out of the Poe problem. She can do much better for herself. Not recommended at all to anyone.

6 comments:

fredamans said...

Sorry to hear it's that disappointing. With the Poe aspect, it disappoints me too. Great review!

Jacqueline Fiedler said...

Bev, I love the honesty of your reviews. And when you have a negative one, I admire that you give solid and specific reasons why it didn't work for you. I follow your blog consistently for those two reasons.

Bev Hankins said...

Thanks, Jacqueline. I do try to explain why things don't work. I don't like to be negative just to be negative...

John said...

Wow! I had exactly the same experience. I couldn't finish this book the first time I tried to read it. But I've never bothered to try again. And I did enjoy most of THE DANTE CLUB. Have you read Louis Bayard's book about Poe at West Point - THE PALE BLUE EYE? With only a little bit of that usual 20th mindset anachronism that tends to crop up in historical mysteries it is far better than THE POE SHADOW.

John said...

Uh...that should be 20th century mindset... But I guess you can figure that out.

Bev Hankins said...

John:

No, I haven't tried that Bayard book. The only one I have read is his The School of Night--which I though had an interesting premise but didn't fulfill my expectations either. The writing itself struck me as quite good (it got me to finish the book), but I didn't think it moved the plot effectively. If that makes any sense...