by Matthew Pearl
Reading this book yields very little understanding of why Edgar Allan Poe died in Baltimore in October, 1849, or what caused his death. The idea of the book is a good one: Write a novel about the questions surrounding Poe's death. The execution in a word is ponderous.
Although the research for "The Poe Shadow" by Matthew Pearl was extensive, the major questions surrounding Poe's death remain unanswered. The book contains a lot of guesses, suppositions, and theories but no proof; a lot of coincidence but no facts. We still do not know why Edgar Allan Poe was in Baltimore, why he ended up at Ryan's Tavern, or what caused him a distress so extreme that his life ended in a hospital four days later. We know where he'd been -- Richmond. We know where he was going -- Philadelphia and then New York City. We don't know why he ended up in Baltimore or how he died.
I won't give away a spoiler but will simply say that the author's theory of Poe's death sounds completely implausible to me. On the other hand, Matthew Pearl's research shines through in unexpected ways. For example, reading this book gave me my first exposure to the practice of cooping on election day. There are other little historical gems scattered throughout the book. It's just too bad that none of them answers the questions surrounding Poe's death.