cover image A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe

A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe

Mark Dawidziak. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-79249-5

In this intrigue-filled offering, Dawidziak (Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone), a former television and film critic, achieves the difficult feat of delivering a fresh biography of Edgar Allan Poe. Dawidziak cleverly frames his narrative as an investigation into the writer’s puzzling demise: Poe died in Baltimore in 1849 at age 40, apparently delirious and by some accounts calling out for someone named Reynolds. These murky circumstances have sparked enduring fascination among fans and scholars, and Dawidziak surveys the most commonly proposed causes of death, which include “binge drinking, rabies, murder, a brain tumor, encephalitis brought on by exposure, syphilis, suicide, [and] heart disease.” The author builds tension by alternating chapters between Poe’s final days and his earlier life, dispelling myths about Poe (such as that he was addicted to opium or had a sullen demeanor) and asserting that, despite his reputation as a “sickly, pasty guy with... a raven perched on his shoulder,” he was best known as a critic during his lifetime and wrote many “satires, hoaxes, and humorous pieces.” Though Dawidziak resists offering a definitive cause of death (even as he identifies tuberculosis as the prime suspect), his sharp analysis of how Poe’s macabre pieces came to overshadow the rest of his work will give readers a fuller understanding of Poe’s varied artistry and character. This has revelations to spare. (Feb.)