EDGAR ALLAN POE AND THE EMPIRE OF THE DEAD / AUTHOR: KAREN LEE STREET / PUBLISHER: POINT BLANK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Edgar Allan Poe is regarded as one of the authors who laid down the tropes and structure of the detective novel. Karen Lee Street’s Edgar Allan Poe and the Empire of the Dead is the third book in a trilogy where Poe teams up with the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin - Poe’s own fictional character, now a ‘real person’, to solve a crime that has begun to be plotted in the first two books. If you haven’t read those you can still passably understand the back story, as a summary is provided in an early chapter.
We follow Poe from his home in America to Paris, to solve a case that concerns a nemesis named Valdemar, who has been introduced in the previous novels. Street is very keen to let the reader know that she’s familiar with Poe’s life and works, peppering the novel with references to characters and incidents from both.
Street attempts to write in a style reminiscent of nineteenth century novels, and here she is successful - the language used is rich and evocative, creating a solid world for the narrative to exist within. The main problem is in her portrayal of Poe, who as our narrator provides his views on everyone he encounters - and he is dismissive of almost everyone he meets, and outright hostile when describing female characters. The fact that the novel has been written in the 21st century makes this level of misogyny just unacceptable - Poe himself was a pioneer, and it would therefore have been appropriate here for him to be shown as progressive in his views. This failure to make Poe a conduit for more modern sensibilities means that he himself is unsympathetic, which diminishes our desire to care about him or his involvement with the many mysteries in the narrative.
This book promised much, but the writing style, the condescension, and the confusion of subplots all lead to a book which feels like an exercise in authorial indulgence. If you’re a Poe completist, then it may be worth a read, otherwise online FanFic almost certainly offers more satisfactory examples of the genre.