The Poe Shadow: A Novel

by Matthew Pearl

Hardcover, 2006



In 1849 Baltimore, following the death of Edgar Allan Poe, Quentin Clark discovers that Poe's final days had been marked by a series of bizarre, unanswered questions and launches his own investigation to resolve the mystery of Poe's death.


½ (460 ratings; 3)

User reviews

LibraryThing member BibliophileBubba
I could not make myself stick with this book. I rarely fail to finish a book, even if I'm not enjoying it at all. But this one I just could not force myself to stick with after 100 pages. The central conceit of the story--that a promising young Baltimore lawyer would risk everything he has to
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investigate the real circumstances around Edgar A. Poe's untimely death, and do so solely on the strength of an appreciation of his work and a modest acquaintance--is barely plausible to begin with. But then the extents to which he goes to pursue his investigations on the barest evidence that there's any real mystery to solve just pushed my patience to the breaking point. Plus, Pearl seems determined to make the book a period piece, true down to the most minute details to the mores of the time. But in the process he produces a "hero" who is so effete and unprepossessing that he comes across a complete ninny who would never have the gumption to do what he's doing. The second problem aggravates the first of the plot's utter implausibility, and I jus couldn't suspend disbelief long enough.
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LibraryThing member damy
The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl is a fictional work that pretends to solve the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe's death. After the first page into the book, I became convinced that the writer didn't have a good editor. There's a sentence on the first page that makes no sense without the insertion of 2
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commas. Anyhow, the reviews weren't too great for this book, but I was determined to like it and plod through to the end.

Pearl uses a ficticious character, Quentin Clark, to try to find the basis for Poe's famous fictional detective, Dupin. Clark travels to France in search of the real Dupin (at peril to his engagement and career) so that he can solve Poe's mysterious death. Pearl's research of the known facts surrounding Poe's death is used for his characters to form hypotheses about what happened in Poe's last days and who might have been responsible (if anyone) for his untimely death. In the end, there's really only one hypothesis that seems to stand out to me with more merit than the others. Even after much research, the final verdict of what happened to Poe still seems like a huge guess. I was intrigued, however, by the hypothesis that the reason for Poe being found unconscious and dressed in shabby ill-fitting clothing shortly before his death is that a clothier snagged him out of the soaking rain and offered him shabby dry clothes in exchange for his nice wet ones. This seems plausible since dry clothes are more valuable than wet ones if you don't have another change of clothing on hand.

There was but one quotable quote from the entire book that made me stop and think for a moment:

"Our own past perversity, not that of others, sets us against someone for life."

While this isn't universally true 100% of the time, it is true in many cases and became a basis for Dupin's final complete hypothesis about who might have been considered to be an enemy of Poe if indeed his death was the result of an enemy rather than accidental. Unfortunately, by the time I got to that point in the book, I didn't care why Poe died and couldn't remember why I ever cared.

If anyone has The Poe Shadow on their reading list, I think I'd recommend it with reservations. It's obvious that the writer went to great pains to do a lot of research for the book. However, it's also obvious that much of the episodes in the book come from him trying to find a way to insert things from his research. It's got the quality of a BBC detective movie and would honestly be better in that format. While the idea behind the book is rather intriguing, the follow-through leaves much to be desired. I couldn't finish the last hundred pages of the book fast enough because, by that point, I frankly didn't care about the characters and didn't care to hear one more hypothesis of Poe's death trumped by another one.

I think the ending to the story should have been more or less like that of "The Cask of Amontillado":

"No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so. I hastened to make an end of my labour. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!"

At the end of Pearl's research, there was still no answer to the mystery of Poe's death. All he can ever make is a guess as to what happened to him. But, perhaps, with the final word of this novel -- the final "stone" in place -- Pearl can feel free to leave Poe to rest in peace and re-erect the former position the world has had that the reason for Poe's untimely death is, in fact, unknowable.
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LibraryThing member hotchk155
Following the death of Edgar Allan Poe, lawyer Quentin Clark comes to believe it his duty to explain the mysterious circumstances of Poe's death and prove that he had not, as was widely thought, fallen foul of the demon alcohol.

Becoming convinced that he must track down "The Real Dupin" (Poe's
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French detective mastermind) in order to solve the mystery, Clark sets off to Paris and things start to get rather complicated.

This is a convincing period piece, written in a 19th century styley and effortlessly mixing historical fact and fiction. There is a nice development of the central character, Clark, from a naiive, head-in-the-clouds rich kid with an easy life to focused and resourceful hero with everything to lose.

An entertaining and absorbing read, if a little bit on the long side. The ending is a little bit of an anticlimax, when the 'mystery' is solved and turns out to be rather unmysterious after all.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Quentin Clark, a Baltimore attorney, is obsessed with Poe's death. He is determined to resolve it with the help of the person who was the basis for Poe's character Dupin. Has he chosen the right Dupin? Will the mystery surrounding Poe's death be resolved?

I had difficulty forcing myself to finish
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this book. The book did not hold my attention. The book was at least 100 pages too long. I never felt a connection to the lead character. I would much prefer to read the primary source materials from which this work was drawn than this work which does not do a very good job of combining the facts surrounding Poe's death with a fictional sleuth to investigage it.
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LibraryThing member LancasterWays
Permit me to begin my review with a confession. (Ha! A clever literary conceit.) I read The Poe Shadow, by Matthew Pearl, after having read his later book, The Last Dickens. I believe this minor action on my part may explain why I favor the latter work in preference to the former, an opinion that
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seems contrary to those of my fellow readers. It is the key to unlocking this mystery.

But first a summation of the plot: Young Baltimore barrister Quentin Clark, unhappy in his practice and stifled by the expectations of polite society, takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of the passing of his favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe. In pursuit of his quest, which borders on obsession if not madness and takes him from Baltimore to Paris and back, Quentin imperils his livelihood, his relationships, his good name and his freedom. Will our young hero prevail?

The Poe Shadow shares many of the strengths of The Last Dickens, particularly Pearl’s recreation of nineteenth century America. (1850s Baltimore in the former; 1870s Boston and London in the latter.) Pearl has clearly done his homework; he is at his best and recreating the historical settings of his novels, both geographically and socially, as well as their ambiance. Indeed, Pearl accomplishes this more successfully in The Poe Shadow than he does in The Last Dickens. Reading The Poe Shadow, I could “see” nineteenth century Baltimore and its people, something that few books have evoked for me since my days as a history major in college. This is truly great stuff.

Where the novels differ most is in Pearl’s treatment of his characters, and this is The Poe Shadow’s flaw. Quentin, as befits the hero of a mystery who is not the character to solve that mystery, is something of a blank slate: He is Watson, not Holmes; his purpose is to serve as an audience to which the solution of the mystery can be explained, thus enlightening the reader, too. Pearl’s attempts to flesh out Quentin’s personality--his indifference to the expectations of society and his obsession with Poe--work against Pearl’s aims, though; Quentin, who in pursuit of the truth of Poe’s death is really “seeking himself,” comes off as merely whiny and crazed--not attractive traits in a main character. Likewise, the Frenchman Auguste Duponte, the investigator upon whom Poe’s celebrated character, Dupin, may or may not be based, seeks truth using his brilliance, a quality so in abundance it permits him to act as offensive and uncouth. He is also, despite his intellect (or perhaps because of it), something of a bore. Really, when Duponte begins to go on at length near the end of the book--when a reader might expect to be turning the pages quickly, anxious to solve the riddle--I couldn’t help but be annoyed. These are not easy characters to enjoy.

That, then, is the crux of the problem I alluded to earlier in my review: In The Last Dickens, the leads were far better drawn than are Quentin and Duponte. The hero of The Last Dickens, James Osgood, is himself the “detective” of the story, which serves two purposes: It eliminates the need for a “raticinator”/sidekick paradigm such as that evident between Duponte and Quentin; and it permits the story to move forward more quickly. Yes, there is something to be said for an author taking his or her time to create atmosphere, which, I’ve already said, Pearl does splendidly, but, frankly, there were times when The Poe Shadow just dragged, a sensation I never had while reading The Last Dickens.

Perhaps it is uncharitable of me to review one of an author’s books by comparing it to one of his later works. (Perhaps I have read too much of Pearl lately, and it is reflected in my syntax and my usage of terms such as “uncharitable.”) But the damage had already been done! How was I to know that The Poe Shadow would be overshadowed (heh) by The Last Dickens? My recommendation: If you have a high tolerance for this sort of thing, by all means, read The Poe Shadow. You will enjoy it. If you’re not a consumer of mysteries and/or historical fiction, though, steer clear of Quentin and Duponte in favor of The Last Dickens.
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LibraryThing member thequotidian
Pearl's second novel, the Poe Shadow shows definite improvement from his first, The Dante Club.

While The Dante Club was an excellent book itself, Pearl seemed to struggle in intorducing the plotline and all the characters. As a result, I found it diffuclut to make my way through the first 100 pages
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or so.

In The Poe Shadow, Pearl does a much better job introducing the premise of his book. Instead of having to force myself through the opening chapters, I was quickly ensnared in the plot of the book.

The book takes place in Baltimore in the 1850's, from the day of Edgar A. Poe's funeral to a time roughly 2 years later. Pearl brilliantly uses fictional characters and real historical figures, along with the real events surrounding Poe's cryptic death, to try to recreate the last week of Poe's life.

To any fan of Pearl, Poe, or historical fiction, Matthew Pearl's The Poe Shadow is a must-read. And while you're at it, check out The Dante Club too.

4 Stars.
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LibraryThing member FicusFan
I started this book but could only get to around 100 pages. I just didn't like the story, the characters, and most especially the writing. Its awful. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but it doesn't flow. Its like driving on a highway made of speed bumps.

I didn't like his first book either,
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though I finished it. Both books were local book group selections, or I never would have picked them up. I just couldn't force myself to finish this one.
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LibraryThing member Ix0x0L
Not really sure how I felt about this one. Overall it was a great idea, but WAY too drawn out. Got me reading Poe again though.
LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
I just couldn't get into this and decided that it was more for a fan than me so brought it back to the library.
LibraryThing member idiotgirl
Listened to the audiobook. I had read Dante Club and enjoyed it. And I'm usually a sucker for 19th century historical/literary. I appreciate the issues that Pearl wants to play with here--interpretation, detection as reading, literary versus realisty. Poe has fascinated the likes of Derrida and
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other post modern stars. This book was so flat footed. Downright boring really. And the reading was flat footed as well. I made it all the way to the end (I learned from my dad not to belly ache and from mom to eat my vegetables). The characters don't make sense, I could go on.
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LibraryThing member vidalia11
I was listening to this as an audiobook and had to quit. I had high hopes for it, but it was tedious and completely unbelievable. I couldn't buy the premise that the protagonist felt compelled to defend the honor or memory of E.A. Poe, for no real reason. And once I didn't buy the premise, the rest
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of it just seemed silly. Admittedly, I didn't finish the book, maybe it got better.
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LibraryThing member zojo
This wasn't as good as I thought it would be! I still enjoyed it but found it slightly long-winded and sometimes a bit confusing. It still had many good points though and I did enjoy it.
LibraryThing member tarablanca
Intriguing and meaty...very wordy and circular. It seemed to topple (toward the end) under the weight of its own self-conscious complexity, but at that point I was just anxious to be done with it so read on, determined to see it through. I'm not sure that I'll seek out more books by this author. I
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appreciate the original research that went into the book but got the sense that the author was trying too hard.
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LibraryThing member drneutron
Frankly, I just didn't like this book. I don't know why. I started it twice and dropped it both times about 1/3 of the way through. More than anything else, I think I just didn't like the main character, and that's usually enough to make me lose interest.
LibraryThing member mrtall
I managed to slog my way through Matthew Pearl's debut work, The Dante Club, but I gave up on this one after reading the first few chapters. Pearl's style just irritates me -- it's precious, suspect as to its historical accuracy, and ultimately dull.
LibraryThing member CmillMBS
I found this book extremely exciting and thought provoking. There are many sections that become very wordy but in a way that makes you have to go back and read it over to make sure you did not miss a small detail. The way the plot unravels in a completely chaotic yet controlled manor makes you
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believe you are reading a book written by a truly intellectual man.
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LibraryThing member ddelmoni
As many others, I too can't believe that the author of The Dante Club wrote this book OR that he had the same editor. What a shame.
LibraryThing member ulan25
I just couldn't ride the zeal of the main character to shed light on the mysterious circumstances regarding Poe's death. I found him overly whiny and naive. And I couldn't help but side with the characters around him who see him as being a downright selfish fool.

I did enjoy reading the big theory,
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or the result of Duponte's investigation, plus the notes at the end of the book.
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LibraryThing member sarradee
Another in the Poe spiral that I'm reading along with several other bookcrossing members. Very slow going, Matthew Pearl is a painstaking researcher, and it shows in the volumes of material he puts into his literary fiction.
LibraryThing member Othemts
Pearl’s follow-up to The Dante Club follows the same formula: fictional characters mix with the historical in a mystery inspired by a literary work, all of this following on an editing job recently completed by Pearl. Unfortunately it is nowhere near as good as its predecessor. It kind of plods
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along and has a few Dan Brown-esque plot twists that really don’t go anywhere. It’s hard to believe the obsession so many characters have for Poe and the circumstances of his death. There are also far too many coincidences even for a mystery. Still I learned a bit about Poe and his times. I need to read Poe’s own detective stories instead of hearing about it second-hand.

“Newspapers are almost always quite mistake about everything,” he said. “If you should find one of the tenets of your religion in type on the sheet, it is likely time to reconsider your form of God-worship.” – p. 145
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LibraryThing member the_hieb
I would have liked it more had it been shorter, a little more coherent, and if the narrator was a little less of a wuss.
LibraryThing member wirtley
Mystery novel about the death of Edgar Allan Poe. Could have been reduced by 200 pages. Too long, too detailed and too boring. We discussed this in book club and many people did not like.
LibraryThing member Rubbah
The Poe shadow is basically about a man trying to clear his favourite author's bad name by hiring a man he believes Poe's fictional detective(Dupin) is based on.
As the reviewers before me have pointed out, Pearl has done everything he can to make it factually correct in every aspect. Whilst some
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of it is intesting to know, a lot of it seems pointless and we are told the same details over and over again. It took me a long time to start enjoying the book and it does pick up in the last 150 or so pages so only buy if you are prepared to force yourself to keep going.
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LibraryThing member eileenmary
couldn't finish, style of writing was irritating
LibraryThing member marek2009
The 2nd of Pearl's book, I was very eager to find it after reading the Dante club. It's a great read, imaginative & evocative with plot twists that match the 1st. However at times it relies on coincidence too much, and the ending is a bit anti-climactic. Apparently Pearl has done much original
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detective work himself on the case & uncovered unknown evidence & clues...
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Random House, (2006), 370 pages

Original publication date





1400061032 / 9781400061037


Original language

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