Accused of having stuffed a cat and a rooster into his pillowcase and hung it on a neighbor's weathervane, young Eddie Poe has only 24 hours to find the actual culprit before being thrashed by his adoptive father.
This imagined incident from the famed writer’s early-19th-century childhood introduces the dreamy poetry-writing boy, befriended by a raven and bedeviled by a personal demon he calls McCobber. Eddie dramatizes every situation, imagining himself a medieval knight and a doomed prisoner. But, as a supportive house slave suggests, he has to use his head to find the perpetrator of this prank, which has angered their neighbor, an influential judge. Woven neatly into the plot is an account of a period playhouse performance featuring the aging magician Mephisto who turns out to have helped Eddie's mother before her death. The whodunit mystery and suspenseful wait for Eddie’s exoneration will keep readers turning pages. Gustafson plays with Poe’s language: “And who in this household... has not been ripped from sweet slumber by the predawn crowing of that fiendish fowl?” Unfortunately, jarringly contemporary-sounding words and phrases such as “chow time,” “pizzazz” and “goofy” break the spell. The author's terrific, atmospheric black-and-white illustrations appear on nearly every page.
An inventive if not quite convincing introduction to the master of the macabre. (Historical mystery. 8-12)