It would be impossible to imagine a name more at odds with the reality than Paradise Square, the dead center of the notorious Five Points district of New York. It is 1847 and a sweetcorn seller has just been violently murdered there, purportedly by her lover Peter Van Brunt. It is Sergeant Jonathan Goode’s task to find out whodunit, and to aid (and hinder) him he has Edgar Allan Poe, a man suited to mystery if ever there was one. The pair uncovers a tale of corruption, politics, murder and romance that makes this short novel into a real page-turner that has the elusive air of realism.
Schorb has certainly done his homework here, as from page one the reader is immersed in the seedy world of New York in the 1840s. Like so many other 19th century detective stories, this one has to feature the inevitable female doctor. But even this does not mar the helter-skelter pace of the plot, the darkly romantic appeal of a well-delineated Poe nor the bizarre historical facts of Boss Meade, his Plug-Uglies and the fire brigade system. If this novel doesn’t have a sequel it will be a crime!