Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster is an impressive and stylish first novel. Its inspiration is factual—a maniac dubbed the London Monster terrorized fashionable women in 18th century London by cutting or stabbing their “derrieres” on public streets—but its telling is fictional.
Edgar Allan Poe, as suggested by the title, is the protagonist and he is joined by his own literary creation C. Auguste Dupin, the detective in Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The year is 1840, 50 years since the London Monster’s last known victim, and Edgar Allan Poe has in his possession several letters written between his maternal grandparents, Elizabeth and Henry Arnold, both actors, that appear to implicate them in the crime. It piques the curiosity of both Poe and Dupin, who meet in London to solve the mystery, and are indirectly aided by an elusive stalker of Poe's who mysteriously provides additional letters with clues to help the two detectives in their quest.
Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster is both unique and entertaining. Edgar Allan Poe is painted as something of his own stereotype (drunken, neurotic), Dupin is refreshingly vivid and well drawn, and the Arnolds—made known only through their letters—are enjoyably eccentric. The mystery is familiar, but its true strength is the atmospheric telling and its literary playfulness. As an example of the latter, the promotional copy for the novel states that “over 30 Poe stories, poems, and essays” are alluded to in the narrative, of which I counted only a handful. Another bit of whimsy is the character of Charles Dickens, a constant correspondent of Poe's, though one who is far too busy to make a personal appearance.