The Tell-Tale Corpse is Harold Schechter’s third mystery starring Edgar Allen Poe. Through a stroke of pure genius, Schechter has chosen that famous writer to be the main character in this delightful series; it is only a wonder that no one thought of this perfect match before now. Who better than the brilliant master of the horror story, the man many believe invented the detective story genre, to solve the question of who is brutally murdering the women of Boston?
In this adventure, Poe is desperately trying to locate the stolen medicine that will save his beloved wife’s life. Sissy suffers from a disease that the well-known physician Dr. Farragut believes he can cure by the use of his specially blended medicine. But before he can administer it, the herbal blend is stolen from his workshop. With the help of a twelve-year-old Louisa May Alcott, “Eddie” is quickly involved in solving not only the theft but also a series of murders that rock Boston. Someone is killing off women at an alarming, and vicious, rate.
Along with the precocious Louisa, Poe is aided in his search by some other famous names of the era. P.T. Barnum provides the destitute Poe with the funds for his trip if he will obtain relics of the murders for Barnum’s famous museum. Alcott’s neighbor in Concord, Henry David Thoreau, is only an unwilling helper since he has, in the past, been subjected to Poe’s scathing critiques of his writings. They join together to solve the crimes that grow to include theft, murder, grave robbing and necrophilia.
The historical basis of this book is well-researched. The personalities of the characters are accurately, if amusingly, portrayed, from the scathing wit of Poe and the showmanship of Barnum to the close-knit, religious Alcotts. Poe’s marriage to his true love, his unhealthy fourteen-year- old first cousin Virginia, has been well documented. His unbridled critiques of some of greatest writers of his time did not endear him to many of them. The innovations of the time are also cleverly incorporated into the plot, such as the new uses of nitrous oxide and the invention of the camera.
The brilliant choice of characters, the atmosphere of 1800s-era New England society, and Schechter’s stylized but friendly writing combine to create a work of absolutely roaring fun to read. This is a book that deserves a warm quilt, a hot cup of high quality cocoa and undisturbed reading time. Low lights will deliciously enhance the spine-tingling atmosphere, too. It doesn’t get anymore enjoyable than this.