cover image On Night's Shore

On Night's Shore

Randall Silvis. Minotaur Books, $24.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-312-26201-3

In 1840, when the poorhouse is the largest building on Manhattan island, a nicely drawn Edgar Allan Poe investigates the murder of shopgirl Mary Rogers in this updating of the original tale of ratiocination, with its post-Chinatown layers of political corruption and surprise piled upon shocking surprise. Such surprises have become common in the wake of the Towne screenplay, but the versatile Silvis--playwright, novelist (Mysticus; etc.)-does a solid job with the form. Poe based his seminal ""The Mystery of Marie Roget"" (the first crime story inspired by an actual murder) on the death of Rogers, but ""at a distance... and with no other means of investigation than the newspapers afforded."" Silvis puts him on the scene in a narrative Watsoned by the aged August Dubbins, who looks back to when he was 10 and Poe's assistant. Poetic observations by the older Dubbins are strong points, but little Augie is often a very weak link--more than once the Hardy Boys seem credible by comparison. Humor at the expense of the unwashed urchin may amuse some readers, who also might be put off by occasional verbose (but Poe-esque) flourishes, such as ""odd brachiation in an unpredictable temperament."" And extremely sordid details don't jell well with boyish adventure (Augie is no Huck Finn). Still, this is a satisfying literary mystery with a convincing picture of Poe as ""a man in search of a sepulchred truth."" Agent, Peter Rubie. (Jan. 1) Forecast: An enthusiastic blurb by Laurie King and a period-accented cover spark the marketing for this novel by an award-winning author (1993 Hammett Prize for An Occasional Hell). Handselling to fans of other historical literary thrillers, such as Caleb Carr's, could boost sales; and there may be some notice on the Net of this title, which contains parallels to the Frankfurt eBook Award-winning Paradise Square, which also features Poe as a detective.