THE MASK OF RED DEATH by Harold Schechter


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Frontier scout Kit Carson and the nefarious “Mountain Man” known as “Liver-Eating Johnson” cross paths with Edgar Allan Poe in crime researcher Schechter's third period mystery (The Hum Bug, 2001, etc.).

It’s 1845 New York, where Poe has brought his fragile young wife Virginia and her endlessly nurturing mother Maria Clemm. Recently offered the editorship of the Broadway Journal, Poe has also published “The Raven” to great acclaim, and his journalism has attracted widespread attention—notably that of an outraged author whom he had pilloried in a dismissive review. On the other hand, a wealthy stranger will reward the erudite author handsomely if Poe can authenticate a mysterious manuscript. After this promising beginning, the story collapses into ungainly histrionics ensuing from the savage murders and mutilations of children and evidence that points to a living Native American “exhibit” in P.T. Barnum's American Museum. But Our Author suspects otherwise, and his intuitions are confirmed when the aforementioned Kit Carson rides into town, having tracked his inhuman prey (the noted “Liver-Eater”) halfway across the country. Perilous adventures and narrow escapes proliferate, as the dandyish aesthete and the “buckskin-clad” Carson race against time to stop the monster from Killing Again (they don't, of course). Schechter finds some of the comic potential in contrasting Carson's manly stoicism with Poe’s flibbertigibbet gentility and vanity. But he buries the plot, such as it is, under lengthy informational flashbacks and summaries. And when a final unforeseen threat is foiled in the very Nick of Time, most readers will have already moved to their bookshelves in search of Jane Austen. Somewhere mid-novel, Poe had described his just-ended day as “Replete with incidents of a most interesting and even dramatic variety.”

If only one could say the same for The Mask of Red Death.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 2004
ISBN: 0-345-44841-3
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2004


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