Edgar Allan Poe and the Jewel of Peru

Written by Karen Lee Street
Review by Susan McDuffie

Philadelphia, 1844: The City of Brotherly Love is not so loving in 1844 as nativist Americans foment unrest against Irish Catholic immigrants. Despite this, Edgar Allan Poe enjoys his morning rambles by the river with the Catholic priest and educator Father Keane. Poe’s home life with his young wife and mother-in-law is serene. This happy bubble bursts when Poe receives several macabre packages—a parcel of mummified crows, a strange diorama seeming to threaten his wife, and other oddities. The arrival of the idiosyncratic young woman Helena Loddiges from England compounds that mystery, along with her request that Poe investigate the death of Jeremiah Matthews, a young ornithologist and explorer who reportedly drowned in Philadelphia after an expedition to Peru. When abduction and murder complicate the inquiry, Poe gratefully welcomes his friend C. Auguste Dupin, who arrives to help solve the crimes.

This somewhat macabre mystery entranced me. Its Gothic mix of antebellum Philadelphia, exotic Peru, hints of vanished cultures and lost treasure, taxidermy, and a cast of intriguing and unusual characters drew me into the tale like a fly caught in a spider’s web. Street’s writing is evocative and true to the period while the plot unwinds in unexpected ways. This is an engaging read. Recommended for lovers of Poe’s writings, for those who enjoy the Gothic and macabre, and for all historical mystery fans.