The Poe Shadow

Written by Matthew Pearl
Review by Ellen Keith


Baltimore lawyer and Poe admirer Quentin Clark has a promising law practice and, after shaking off his cluelessness regarding women, a beautiful fiancée. Yet he risks it all with his obsession to uncover the truth about the death of Edgar Allan Poe. Pearl, author of The Dante Club, may wish to pay homage to Poe’s works with this tale, with its twists and turns and single-minded protagonist, but what works in Poe’s short stories becomes labored in a book-length work. While Pearl faithfully and diligently recreates both 19th-century Baltimore and Paris (where Clark travels to find the real-life model for C. Auguste Dupin), he’s done himself a disservice by featuring Clark as his leading man. Clark’s only characteristic is his fascination with Poe, a fascination that jeopardizes everything in his life: his career, his fiancée, and even his family home and fortune. This could be forgiven and understood if the story moved along more quickly, but Clark spends two interminable years in this pursuit, and rather dawdling years they are. There is little sense of urgency, which also undercuts Clark’s purported zeal. When the denouement came, I no longer cared.