The Tell-Tale Corpse

Written by Harold Schechter
Review by Lorraine Gelly


In the latter months of 1845, Edgar Allan Poe was enjoying success as a writer; however, his finances were precarious. His young wife, Virginia, was unwell, and they had been told by several doctors that nothing could be done. Poe’s good friend, P.T. Barnum, advises Poe that a doctor outside of Boston has had remarkable success with botanical cures. Poe and “Sissy” travel to Boston and stop over before going on to Concord. When a servant girl is found drowned in a bath, it looks like an accident, but Poe proves it is murder. When they move on to Concord, they discover other murders meant to look like suicides. Poe believes the murders and recent grave robberies are all connected. With his vast intelligence and tendency towards the macabre, Poe is a natural detective.

Eddie, as Sissy affectionately calls him, meets up with other literary figures of the day. Fourteen-year-old Louisa May Alcott becomes a sidekick of sorts, and they also encounter Henry David Thoreau in the course of the investigation. The portrayal of the Alcott family is especially well done; the novel foreshadows Louisa’s future a writer of popular sensational stories. Schechter’s descriptions of mid-19th century Boston are engrossing. Fans of Poe should take note of this unusual and entertaining series.