Sensitive Edgar Allan Poe and his mysterious comrade C. Augustus Dupin team up with Poe’s wife and an eccentric taxidermist in Street’s (Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster, 2016) second novel.
When Miss Helena Loddiges, last met during Poe’s investigation into his family’s sordid history in London, turns up on his Philadelphia doorstep with a message from a dead raven and concerns about a murdered friend, Poe can’t turn her away. She’s a welcome diversion, really, from his obsessive concerns about his wife Sissy’s health. Despite Helena’s outrageous hobby and sense of fashion, her story about Andrew Mathews, a bird collector, and his son Jeremiah, both of whom had recently traveled to Peru and then ended up dead, has the ring of truth, which seems confirmed when she is abducted. The heart of this mystery, and the most striking descriptions and imagery in the novel, revolve around birds; Andrew and Jeremiah kept journals of their South American discoveries, beautifully illustrated, and some of the pictures seem to be clues. Then there is the legend of “the jewel of Peru,” a magnificent emerald buried in a tomb. Poe and Dupin must confront a formidable professor, several criminal priests, some violent nativists, and their old nemeses, George and Rowena Reynolds, to save Ms. Loddiges and discover the truth about the jewel. The mystery—in fact, the whole novel—offers more shiny surface than deep complexity, but it’s fun. The descriptions of the birds and the focus on exotic places differentiate it from Street’s first Poe/Dupin novel, and while there isn’t as much need for “ratiocination,” there is also less depressive, self-condemning narration from Poe. It feels a bit like old Indiana Jones returning for The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull—a bit ridiculous but entertaining all the same.
An enjoyable romp through the drawing rooms, theaters, and docks of early-19th-century Philadelphia.