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The Blackest Bird: A Novel of Murder in Nineteenth-Century New York
     

The Blackest Bird: A Novel of Murder in Nineteenth-Century New York

by Joel Rose
 

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“Irresistibly seductive. ... Murder mystery, historical novel, portal to another time; The Blackest Bird is a masterpiece.”—Anthony Bourdain
In the sweltering summer of 1841, Mary Rogers, a popular tobacco shop counter girl, is found brutally murdered in the shallows of the Hudson River. John Colt, scion of the firearm fortune, beats his

Overview

“Irresistibly seductive. ... Murder mystery, historical novel, portal to another time; The Blackest Bird is a masterpiece.”—Anthony Bourdain
In the sweltering summer of 1841, Mary Rogers, a popular tobacco shop counter girl, is found brutally murdered in the shallows of the Hudson River. John Colt, scion of the firearm fortune, beats his publisher to death with a hatchet. And young Irish gang leader Tommy Coleman is accused of killing his daughter, wife, and her former lover. Charged with solving it all is High Constable Jacob Hays, whose investigation will span a decade, involving gang wars, grave robbers, and clues hidden in poems by the hopeless romantic and minstrel of the night, Edgar Allan Poe.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Rose (New York Sawed in Half) takes on one of the most celebrated unsolved murders in New York City history—the 1841 killing of Mary Rogers—in this historical whodunit, but doesn't make the most of its potential. Rogers, an attractive young woman, achieved local notoriety as a sales clerk at a Manhattan tobacco shop whose clientele included such notable authors as James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe. After the discovery of the victim's mutilated body, Jacob Hays, the city's high constable, who makes a somewhat plodding and colorless detective, quickly narrows his scrutiny to Poe, whose second Dupin story was based on the case. While the author provides a convincing portrait of the New York literary world of the day, crime fans may be disappointed that the mystery's solution comes out of left field with no evidence to support it. This novel should get a lift from Daniel Stashower's recent factual study of the Rogers murder, The Beautiful Cigar Girl. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Writer Edgar Allen Poe has been the subject of—or at least a significant character in—quite a few historical mysteries recently, including Louis Bayard's The Pale Blue Eye, which places him at the West Point Military Academy during a mysterious murder case. Not only is Poe a feature of Rose's (Kill the Poor) novel but so are his poetry and literary scruples. This book opens in 1841 and introduces High Constable Jacob Hays, New York City's first detective. After a series of bizarre murders, Hays must find the clues that tie city officials, street thugs, businessmen, and a beautiful tobacco store clerk to the strange and tragic troubled life of a literary genius. The excitement of chasing grave robbers, life on death row in the Tombs, and the filth and sickness of the city immerse this novel in an atmosphere of uncertainty and change. The famous names and places it features bring intrigue and dark passions to play with a familiar history and literature. A good mystery for historical fiction readers and fans of Poe's work; a good mystery suspense selection for public libraries.
—Ron Samul Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
Two actual murders and a third fictional one collide with the dark world of Edgar Allen Poe in this uneven historical mystery by Rose (Kill Kill Faster Faster, 1997, etc.). New York City chief constable Jacob Hays pursues the cases with the assistance of Olga, his sweet, spinsterish daughter. The novel opens with the brutal killing, in July 1841, of Mary Cecilia Rogers, a beautiful tobacco-shop employee whose death results in a media frenzy that consumes the entire city. Among the most famous individuals fascinated by the lovely victim is brooding poet Poe, consumed by illness, depression and poverty. Mary's slayer is unknown, but aspiring writer and Poe admirer John Colt (brother to firearms magnate Samuel) confesses to the second murder, claiming he killed his printer in self-defense. By contrast, gang leader Tommy Coleman, who occupies a cell near Colt on death row, continues to insist he didn't fatally beat his wife and small daughter. Colt watches from his cell window as workmen construct the gallows and Hays sorts through the evidence. The murder investigations play out against the New York literary scene with a cast that overwhelms the cluttered story line. The characters become more and more entwined. Olga, it turns out, is a fan of Poe, who was once infatuated with Mary. Poe writes a story in installments that promises to name Mary's killer, but a surprise wedding and a well-timed fire change everything. Prodigious detail and period speech overwhelm this slow-moving tale, while the constant shifting between present and past tense is disconcerting. A twisty second half livens things up, but most readers will likely not make it that far.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393330618
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
03/10/2008
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
480
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.07(d)

Meet the Author

Joel Rose is the author of Kill the Poor, Kill Kill Faster Faster, and New York Sawed in Half. He founded the literary magazine Between C&D and lives in New York City and on the Jersey shore.

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