To solve a series of grotesque and loathsome murders, detective Edgar Allan Poe enlists the aid of 12-year-old Louisa May Alcott.
Schechter’s third case for Poe (The Mask of Red Death, 2004, etc.) begins with a mission on behalf of P.T. Barnum, who wants Poe to deliver a package to Moses Kimball, proprietor of the Boston Museum, a minor-league version of Barnum’s own house of diabolical delights. It’s a task Poe can hardly refuse, since Barnum is footing the bill for Poe’s Oz-like journey to seek out Doctor Erasmus Farragut, creator of “The All-Natural Botanical Healing Balm,” which may be just the miracle cure required by Poe’s ailing child-wife Virginia (“The woman whom I love as no man has ever loved before”). So Poe sets out on a trip fraught with darkness and despair. In Boston, he meets the four young Alcott sisters and their pretty companion, who is soon murdered. Her apparent suicide is correctly designated only after the usual Poe brilliance redeems the usual law-enforcement buffoonery. On to Concord, scene of more murders and a sidebar or two with Thoreau at Walden Pond. At length, Poe and little Alcott are taken prisoner by black-hearted villains convinced they know too much. Facing certain death, they are rescued by a deus ex machina in the nick of time.
Porous plotting, plummy prose and an insufferably pretentious series protagonist give new meaning to Nevermore.