Summary and book reviews of The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

The Poe Shadow

by Matthew Pearl

The Poe Shadow
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  • First Published:
    May 2006, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2007, 384 pages

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Book Summary

Through the eyes of a Baltimore lawyer named Quentin Clark, Pearl opens a new window on the truth behind Poe’s demise, literary history’s most persistent enigma.

“I present to you . . . the truth about this man’s death and my life.”

Baltimore, 1849. The body of Edgar Allan Poe has been buried in an unmarked grave. The public, the press, and even Poe’s own family and friends accept the conclusion that Poe was a second-rate writer who met a disgraceful end as a drunkard. Everyone, in fact, seems to believe this except a young Baltimore lawyer named Quentin Clark, an ardent admirer who puts his own career and reputation at risk in a passionate crusade to salvage Poe’s.

As Quentin explores the puzzling circumstances of Poe’s demise, he discovers that the writer’s last days are riddled with unanswered questions the police are possibly willfully ignoring. Just when Poe’s death seems destined to remain a mystery, and forever sealing his ignominy, inspiration strikes Quentin–in the form of Poe’s own stories. The young attorney realizes that he must find the one person who can solve the strange case of Poe’s death: the real-life model for Poe’s brilliant fictional detective character, C. Auguste Dupin, the hero of ingenious tales of crime and detection.

In short order, Quentin finds himself enmeshed in sinister machinations involving political agents, a female assassin, the corrupt Baltimore slave trade, and the lost secrets of Poe’s final hours. With his own future hanging in the balance, Quentin Clark must turn master investigator himself to unchain his now imperiled fate from that of Poe’s.

Following his phenomenal debut novel, The Dante Club, Matthew Pearl has once again crossed pitch-perfect literary history with innovative mystery to create a beautifully detailed, ingeniously plotted tale of suspense. Pearl’s groundbreaking research–featuring documented material never published before–opens a new window on the truth behind Poe’s demise, literary history’s most persistent enigma. The resulting novel is a publishing event that, through sublime craftsmanship, subtle wit, and devious twists, does honor to Poe himself.

I remember the day it began because I was impatient for an important letter to arrive. Also, because it was meant to be the day of my engagement to Hattie Blum. And, of course, it was the day I saw him dead.

The Blums were near neighbors of my family. Hattie was the youngest and most affable of four sisters who were considered nearly the prettiest four sisters in Baltimore. Hattie and I had been acquainted from our very infancies, as we were told often enough through the years. And each time we were told how long we'd known each other, I think the words were meant also to say, "and you shall know each other evermore, depend upon it."

And in spite of such pressure as might easily have pushed us apart, even at eleven years old I became like a little husband toward my playfellow. I never made outward professions of love to Hattie, but I devoted myself to her happiness in small ways while she entertained me with her talk. There was something hushed about her voice, which often ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Aside from Quentin, most of the novel’s characters in this 1849 setting do not appreciate or read Edgar Allan Poe's works, and this fact in part provokes Quentin to try and rescue Poe's name. Why do you think Poe means so much to Quentin?

  2. If you have read Poe, what are your thoughts about his work? Is there any author, from past or present, whom you would "fight" for as much as Quentin does for Poe?

  3. In addition to serving as physical locales, Baltimore and Paris may be said to serve as "characters" in the book. What do the cities add to the novel, and what kinds of details bring alive their histories?

  4. As the historical note at the back of the novel explains, the book uses authentic ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Good but not great. Towards the middle, when the plot rambled a little, I recollect thinking that I hoped it would be worth it - and overall it was - but it wasn't a book that kept me up at night!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews

Publisher's Weekly

While Clark remains a little enigmatic, the exciting plot, numerous twists and convincing period detail could help land this on bestseller lists as well.

Booklist

(A) masterful blend of historical and fictional figures, meticulous research, and nineteenth-century literary style.

Library Journal

Clark is a bit of a bumbler, and the various denouements tend to be ponderous. Still, this literary historical mystery should please fans.

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Beyond the Book

Edgar Allan Poe was born Edgar Poe in 1809 to Elizabeth and David Poe, both actors. They died when he was three and he was taken in by John Allan, a tobacco merchant living in Virginia. He became estranged from his foster father in the mid to late 1820s and joined the US Army under the name Edgar Perry - he served for two years before being discharged with the rank of Sergeant in 1829. During this time he published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems.

His foster-mother's deathbed wish was that he would reconcile with his foster-father, who arranged for him to attend the military academy at West Point, but while there he deliberately disobeyed orders and was dismissed - and was promptly disowned by his foster-...

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