ALLAN POE AND THE JEWEL OF PERU
Pegasus Crime (May, 2018)
Kindle edition: $12.99
A Poe and Dupin Mystery (Book 2)
by Shirley Wetzel
Philadelphia: 1844. On a cold, bleak winter evening, Edgar Allan Poe finds a mysterious package on his doorstep. Thinking it might be an early birthday present from his wife Virginia and mother-in-law “Muddy,” he is shocked when he opens the box to see three pairs of beady eyes glaring at him. On closer look, he finds that the box contains the carefully preserved remains of three crows. The menacing gift is an obvious threat. Has his nemesis, the man who swore to destroy him, returned to finish the job? More anonymous packages arrive for him over the coming days, each more creepy and disturbing than the last.
Still pondering the mysterious packages, Poe takes Virginia, whom he affectionately calls Sissy, to a play as a special treat. Because her health is fragile, she seldom leaves the safety of home and hearth, so this is a treat for her. The play is mediocre: the star, billed as Mrs. Fontaine, turns in a masterful performance even so. Sissy is eager to meet the renowned actress, and makes her way through the crowd to express her admiration. When Poe sees Fontaine’s heavily made-up face his heart jumps in his throat. He knows her as Rowena Reynolds. When he last saw her in London, she and her paramour George Rhynwich Williams were trying to kill him. Williams blames Poe for the unjust actions of Poe’s grandfather against his family and has sworn to get his revenge.
Mrs. Fontaine assures Poe that her husband has had a change of heart and now wants to let bygones be bygones. Despite her heartfelt assurances he has serious doubts about that. He is sure that the macabre packages he’s been receiving come from the man now calling himself George Williams.
One morning a robin pecks at the window: Muddy says this predicts an unexpected visitor, and later in the day a most unusual woman shows up on the doorstep. Helena Loddiges, an English heiress, is incongruously dressed in a voluminous gown in iridescent shades of black and purple, dripping lace and feathers. Her neck, ears and hat are adorned with the jewel-toned preserved heads of hummingbirds. They had met on her father’s estate, where she lived in seclusion. She has come to seek his help in investigating the death of her fiancé, Jeremiah Matthews.
She chose Poe because he has a reputation for solving mysteries, and also because a little bird had told her to—literally. He is beholden to the lady, who’d paid him well for editing one of her ornithological books, so he reluctantly agrees to her request.
Two years ago, Jeremiah’s father Andrew had gone on an expedition to Peru to collect exotic and rare birds for her father’s extensive collection. He died there, supposedly in an accident. Jeremiah, doubting that account, returned to Peru the following year to continue the collection of specimens and to find out what really happened to his father. Shortly after the ship docked in Philadelphia on the return trip, Jeremiah reportedly fell off the deck and drowned. Helena says he was an excellent swimmer. Not only that, but his ghostly form appeared one night in her bedroom. He asked her a curious question: Where is the jewel? He then vanished into thin air.
The investigation has hardly begun when Helena is abducted by unknown assailants. Poe’s old friend, Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, disturbed by Poe’s letters about the packages and by the return of Poe’s old enemy, sailed from Paris to offer his support and assistance. The two of them, with assistance from Poe’s friend Father Keane and a few other allies, follow the clues to find Helena and locate Jeremiah’s journal, the key to his and his father’s deaths.
This homage to Poe could have been written by the man himself. The tone is suitably gloomy, with plenty of macabre touches, including birds of all kinds. The Philadelphia scenery, culture and history come alive on the page. In particular, the unrest between the Nativists and the newly-arrived Irish immigrants adds tension to the story and impacts the investigation. The use of Poe’s fictional detective, Chevalier Dupin, is a delightful detail. This is an entertaining read for fans of Poe and for those who enjoy a fine historical mystery. Recommended.
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