A saucy stew seasoned with chunks of mystery, history, romance and literary sniping between Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe while both are held for ransom.
Willie Chivers grew up with Eddie Poe—played with him, went to West Point with him and spent much of his youth resenting the uncanny ease with which Eddie could sucker him into missteps while adroitly sidestepping the penalties himself. Now, in 1849, Dr. William John Chivers, resident physician at Washington College Hospital, Baltimore, is alerted to the arrival of a new patient, nondescript in appearance but instantly recognized by Dr. Chivers as Edgar Allan Poe, celebrated author and unmissed childhood friend. Once more, it becomes clear, Eddie has hatched a plot with a plum role for Willie. He wants to be declared officially deceased, with his old pal’s signature on the death certificate. Willie demurs, but Eddie beguiles. Soon enough, the fair but fractious steel magnolia Elmira Royster, whom Willie “viewed…through a haze of imagined copulation,” re-enters his life, identifying herself as Eddie’s fiancée. Soon thereafter, anarchic forces place Dickens and Poe in shared captivity. They carp, they squabble, and “The Cask of Amontillado” and David Copperfield will get unsparingly trashed before the resolution.
Despite some clutter—Gray (White Stone Day, 2005, etc.) does tend to hyper-plot at times—this is witty, stylish, literate fun.