Matthew Pearl didn't accept the notion, and he wanted to fill in the gaps. He has studied much of the work that has been done and combed the archives for documents from the period that might shed light on the issue. But he has also created a character, a smart young lawyer obsessed much as a character from a tale by E. A. Poe would be with finding the true story behind the death of the author. That young man, Quentin Clark, determines that he cannot solve the mystery of the death without the help of the French thinker who was the basis for Poe's most famous character the detective C. Auguste Dupin, model for Sherlock Holmes and grandfather of all subsequent literary gumshoes. Clark's obsession makes him leave his law practice, his fiancée, and his city and takes him to Paris, where he decides that one of two candidates for Poe's Dupin is the right one, and he brings the man back to Baltimore. The second candidate comes too, and thus begins a wild complication that brings in French and American politics, detailed descriptions of both Baltimore and Paris, and a wild intrigue of uncertain loyalties.
Matthew Pearl has chosen to tell his nineteenth-century stories in a nineteenth-century style. Much of the description and dialogue in The Poe Shadow is written in the same diction and syntax Poe himself might have chosen. To check out that supposition, I went back and reread probably for the first time in thirty years Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." It did verify my impression and reminded me of how vivid, smart, and frightening those stories are. I have to think that Matthew Pearl would be pleased that his book took a reader back to the original.
Matthew Pearl reads from The Poe Shadow at the downtown Borders on Tuesday, July 17.