The Blackest Bird
On a July Sunday morning in 1841, Mary Cecilia Rogers left her mother’s house on Nassau Street in New York City and was never seen alive again. A few days later, some boys scavenging on the Weehawken banks of the Hudson River recover what they had first thought to be a bundle of rags but which was later identified as the remains of Mary Rogers. She had been beautiful, much admired by many men who knew her from Anderson’s tobacco shop where she once worked.
Edgar Allan Poe, Mary’s former lover, is the prime suspect. He wrote about her murder in The Mystery of Marie Roget. Other murders occur at the time of Mary’s disappearance. One is that of Samuel Adams, a printer, who was hacked to death by John C. Colt, brother of Col. Samuel Colt, the inventor. The other was a triple murder of a pretty young “hot corn girl,” her daughter, and the man who had been her former lover. Her husband, Timothy Coleman of the Forty Thieves gang of Five Corners, is convicted of these murders. His cell is opposite that of John Colt’s. High Constable Jacob Hays is determined to solve the murder of Mary Rogers. In the meantime, however, there is a fire in the prison, during which Coleman escapes and Colt apparently commits suicide.
At this point, the story diverges, centering on Poe’s tragic life, and loses momentum.
Joel Rose has written an intriguing story that would be a riveting mystery, except for long passages of exposition that go beyond color and background, and do not advance the story. The Blackest Bird, a work of fiction that does not solve the mystery, will appeal to history fans with its rich descriptions of 19th century New York, sprinkled with real characters and events.