An Unpardonable Crime

Written by Andrew Taylor
Review by Ellen Keith

Taylor, the author of over twenty novels, knows how to tell a story. This is a can’t-put-down mystery, set in England in 1819. It’s narrated by Tom Shield, who considers himself fortunate to find work as an assistant schoolmaster with no references but the taint of madness, having thrown his Waterloo Medal at an officer. Through his position at Mr. Bransby’s school, he becomes acquainted with young Charles Frant and his friend Edgar Allan Poe. Then he becomes involved with the Frant family, where he finds himself attracted both to Charles’s mother Sophia and her cousin Flora. Upon the death of Sophia’s uncle, it is discovered that her husband Henry has driven the family bank into ruin, and he turns up murdered.

Taylor is adept at delineating sex and class differences and how they made hostages of those unfortunate enough to be born either female or poor. Both Tom and Sophia are forced to be grateful to those who hold their futures and let them know that it is in within their power to take them away. Sophia must endure the attentions of the family benefactor, while Tom is threatened with the loss of his job and no references once again.

The presence of a young Edgar Allan Poe is neither superfluous nor distracting but rather an integral part of the tale, and Taylor proves himself the equal of Poe in building suspense. I didn’t want this book to end.