THE HUM BUG

Harold Schechter, Author . Pocket $25 (400p) ISBN 978-0-671-04115-1

In 1844 Edgar Allan Poe and his wife, Sissy, recently moved to New York, visit P.T. Barnum's American Museum only to become enmeshed in a grisly series of murders, in this lively historical whodunit. Curiosity about a dubious display of relics from the last stand at the Alamo of Davy Crockett, with whom he solved another set of murders a decade before in the author's first Poe mystery, Nevermore (1999), lures the truth-loving writer into a meeting with the redoubtable showman. Barnum has an explanation for that—and everything else he offers up to entertain the public. " 'I know perfectly well that ordinary gorillas have no tails,' Barnum said, 'But that's what makes mine such a remarkable specimen!' " When Barnum's diorama of an infamous murder—a woman, hands amputated, a rose in her mouth—is re-created in flesh and blood, he hires Poe to help him find the killer. In the course of the chase every corner of the bizarre museum becomes familiar, and the cast of human oddities inside and out, such as Morris Vanderhorn ("it's as if he's got two faces, split right down the middle"), seems a perfect foil for the master of the grotesque and arabesque. Some readers may find the narrative, as if by Poe, a bit much—"Somewhat stung by Sissy's unflattering characterization of me as a 'fuddy-duddy,' I opened my lips with the intention of delivering a spirited reply"—but Schechter has fun with it (a highlight: Poe's encounter with a contemporary porn novel). You pay your nickel and you get entertained. Agent, Loretta Barrett. (Nov. 13)

FYI:Schechter is the coauthor, with David Everitt, of The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers.

Reviewed on: 10/15/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
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