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Nevermore (Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Series #1)

Nevermore (Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Series #1)

3.7 13
by Harold Schechter

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Praised by Caleb Carr for his "brilliantly detailed and above all riveting" true-crime writing, Harold Schechter brings his expertise to a marvelous work of fiction. Superbly rendering the 1830s Baltimore of Edgar Allan Poe, Schechter taps into the dark genius of that legendary author -- and follows a labyrinthine path into the heart of a most heinous crime.


Praised by Caleb Carr for his "brilliantly detailed and above all riveting" true-crime writing, Harold Schechter brings his expertise to a marvelous work of fiction. Superbly rendering the 1830s Baltimore of Edgar Allan Poe, Schechter taps into the dark genius of that legendary author -- and follows a labyrinthine path into the heart of a most heinous crime.

A literary critic known for his scathing pen, Edgar Allan Poe is a young struggling writer, plagued by dreadful ruminations and horrific visions. Suddenly he is plunged into an adventure beyond his wildest fantasies -- a quest for a killer through Baltimore's highest and lowest streets and byways. A string of ghastly murders is linked by one chilling clue -- a cryptic word scrawled in blood. It is a terrifying lure that ensnares Poe in a deadly investigation. And along the way, his own macabre literary imagination is sparked as he unveils dark realities stranger than any fiction...

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Booklist A literary confection...A first-rate mystery.

Anne Poe Lehr In this gripping, suspenseful thriller, Harold Schechter does a splendid job of capturing the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe. I'm sure my late, great cousin would have loved Nevermore!

The New York Times Book Review Schechter's entertaining premise is supported by rich period atmospherics and a plot that keeps the finger of suspicion wandering until the very end.

Putting Davy Crockett and Edgar Allan Poe together as companions in a book seems like a ridiculous combination, but in this mystery, the academic, talky Poe and the frontier, babbling Crockett put their heads together and solve several horrendous crimes. Colonel Crockett first approaches Poe after Poe writes a scathing review of his autobiography. When Crockett goes to see him, murders begin to happen around them and they are forced to join forces to solve them. The crimes are horrible but the men persist and finally find the surprising culprit. The adventures of these two men and the humorous dialogue make this a fun read. Whether Crockett and Poe ever met in real life or not, you can imagine they would have sounded just like this if they had. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Pocket Books, 465p, 18 cm, $6.99. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Barbara Jo McKee; Libn/Media Dir., Streetsboro H.S., Stow, OH, May 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 3)
Library Journal
True-crime specialist Schechter goes fictional. Poe teams up, rather improbably, with Colonel David Crockett to solve a string of ugly murders whose perpetrator leaves a single clue: the word "Nevermore."
James Polk
Schechter's entertaining premise is supported by rich period atmospherics and a plot that keeps the finger of suspicion wandering until the very end. --The New York Times Book Review
Gary S. Kadet
Caleb Carr and Tom Holland are going to have some competition for turf in the land of historical literary crime fiction....With Nevermore, Schechter has turned the neat trick of creating a piece of historical literary fiction that is easily as compelling as its central figure, Edgar Allen Poe. -- The Boston Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Davy Crockett meets Edgar Allan Poe-and together they set out in search of Baltimore's 1830s equivalent of John Wayne Gacy: a gothic thriller (and first hardcover fiction) from Schechter. Poe, known today mainly as macabre poet and storyteller, was in fact one of the most feared literary critics of the 19th century, so notoriously vicious in his denunciation of cant and drivel that his contemporaries nicknamed him "the tomahawk" during his tenure as editor of the prestigious Southern Literary Messenger. In 1834, he published a particularly scathing review of Davy Crockett's memoirs, condemning the work for its vulgar sentimentality. Schechter imagines the scene that follows, in which Crockett comes to Baltimore to demand an apology from Poe-and, failing to get one, challenges him to a duel. Before Poe can oblige, however, Crockett returns home to find his landlady, Mrs. Macready, murdered in her bed, the word "Nevermore" spelled out in blood on the wall above her. Bizarrely united by the catastrophe, Poe and Crockett team up to find the killer. A misreading of the bloody clue at first leads them to suspect Hans Neuerdorf, a former servant of the deceased, but once they realize their mistake, they recruit him, too, for their investigation. Soon enough, as it becomes clear that the Macready case is not an isolated incident, a string of NEVERMORE murders terrorizes the whole of Baltimore. Can Poe find the killer? Well, who better for this job than the inventor of the murder mystery? Still, how many deaths will he have to solve? A clever vehicle that unfortunately bogs down in the mud of the author's prose ("In contrast to the pleasing breadth and uniformity of the city's mainthoroughfares, the streets of this woebegone district were excessively irregular") and on the wide plains of his predictable plot. Good atmosphere, dull story.

Product Details

Atria Books
Publication date:
Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Series , #1
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
1.07(w) x 5.00(h) x 8.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

During the whole of a dull, dark, and dreary day, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the sky, I had been sitting alone in my chamber, poring over a medical treatise of singular interest and merit. Its author was the eminent Doctor M. Valdemar of Leipzig, whose earlier volume, The Recrudescence of Leprosy and Its Causation, had done much to divest that grave affliction of the aura of preternatural dread that has surrounded its sufferers throughout the ages. In one remarkable stroke, Valdemar had succeeded in elevating the study of this ancient scourge — so long steeped in primitive superstition — to the heights of pure science.
Valdemar's latest treatise, which had so absorbed my attention throughout that dismal afternoon in the latter week of April, was offered in the same spirit of enlightened rationalism. Its subject was, if conceivable, even more repugnant to refined sensibilities than the bodily disfigurements produced by infectious leprosis. Indeed, it was a subject of such extreme morbidity that — even in the hands of one as averse to mere sensationalism as Valdemar — it resounded more of the ghastly themes of the Gothic than the concerns of medical philosophy.
The volume, prominently displayed in the window of a venerable bookseller on Lexington Street, had caught my eye a few days earlier. Even more than the name of its distinguished author, it was the title of the book, gold-stamped on green leather, that had riveted my attention: Inhumation Before Death, and How It May Be Prevented. Here, indeed, was a matter worthy of the most rigorous scientific investigation. For of all the imagined terrors that vex the tranquillity of the human soul, surely none can parallel the contemplation of that awful eventuality to which Valdemar had addressed himself in his newest book. I mean, of course, the grim — the ghastly — the unspeakable — possibility of premature burial!
Personal affairs of more than usual urgency had delayed my perusal of this remarkable volume. At last, with sufficient time at my disposal, I had sequestered myself behind the closed door of my sanctum, where, by the sombre yellow light of my table lamp, I had devoted the better part of the day to the intense scrutiny of Valdemar's treatise.
Applying the prodigious erudition that is the hallmark of his genius, Valdemar had produced a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge concerning this most awful of subjects. His chapter headings alone gave ample indication of the enormous breadth of his undertaking: "Cataleptic Sleep and Other Causes of Premature Burial," "The Signs of Death," "The Dangers of Hasty Embalmment," "Cremation as a Preventive of Premature Burial," "Resuscitation from Apparent Death," and "Suspended Animation after Small-Pox," among many others. It is scarcely necessary to state that the wealth of useful — nay, indispensable — knowledge embodied in these pages more than justified the somewhat exorbitant cost of the volume.
Still, the all-compelling interest of the book did not derive solely, or even primarily, from the practical information it contained. Rather, it stemmed from the many documented cases Valdemar had assembled from medical reports throughout the world: the all-too-numerous instances of wretched fellow-creatures whose fate it had been to suffer the supreme torments of living interment. Indeed, though Valdemar's prose style (in his scrupulous efforts to avoid any taint of the lurid) verged, at moments, on the dryly pedantic, the mere recitation of these cases was sufficiently chilling to provoke in the reader an empathic response of the highest intensity.
At least, so it proved with me.
One particular instance, cited from the Chirurgical Journal of London, had transfixed me with horror. This was the case of a young English gentleman who had fallen victim to an anomalous disorder — a cataleptic state of such profound immobility that even his physicians mistook it for death. Accordingly, he was placed in his coffin and consigned to the family plot. Some hours later, the sexton heard an unearthly gibbering issuing from the ground. The gravedigger was summoned; the casket uncovered; the lid prised open. Within the box lay the young man, cackling wildly, his black hair bleached completely white by fear!
When, by slow degrees, he recovered the power of speech, he described the agonies of his experience. Though seemingly insensate, he had retained his auditory faculties throughout his ordeal. Thus, he had listened — with an acuity born of absolute terror — to every sound that attended his intombment: the closing of the casket; the clatter of the hearse; the grieving of his loved ones; the sickening fall of shovelled soil upon his coffin lid. And yet, in consequence of his paralysis, he had been unable, by either sound or motion, to alert those around him to the extremity of his condition — until, set loose by his utter desperation, a torrent of maddened shrieks had vomited forth from the very pit of his fear-harrowed soul.
Something about this story so impressed itself upon my imagination that, as I sat there lost in contemplation, I gradually fell into a kind of waking reverie — or rather, nightmare. I lost track of time. My familiar surroundings — the small, shadowy chamber with its meagre furnishings and black-curtained window — appeared to dissolve. Darkness embraced me. I felt myself enveloped by the suffocating closeness of the grave.
No longer was I merely ruminating upon the agonies of premature burial; I was experiencing them as vividly as if my own still-living body had been laid, all unwittingly, in the tomb. I could feel, hear, and sense every particular of that dread calamity: the unendurable oppression of the lungs — the clinging of the death garments — the rigid embrace of the coffin — the methodical thudding of the gravedigger's shovel — the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm.
A scream of the purest anguish arose in my throat. I opened my terror-parched lips, praying that my cries would save me from the ineffable torments of my predicament.
Before I could summon this agonized yell (an act which would unquestionably have alarmed the entire neighborhood and occasioned me a great deal of embarrassment), a dim awareness of my true situation broke into my overwrought fancy. Suddenly, I realized that the noise I had mistaken for gravedigging was in reality the muffled thud of some unknown caller, pounding on the front door of my residence. Or rather, I should say, of the residence I shared with my beloved Aunt Maria and her angelic daughter, my darling little cousin Virginia.
I pulled out my pocket handkerchief and, with a deep groan of relief, wiped away the moisture that my all-too-vivid fantasy had wrung from my brow. Laying aside Valdemar's treatise, I cocked an ear towards the front of the house. I could discern the distinctive tread of my sainted "Muddy" (for so, in tribute to her maternal devotion, I fondly referred to my aunt) as she hastened to answer the knocking. Dimly, I could hear her interrogative tone as she greeted the visitor.
An instant later, striding footsteps echoed in the corridor, succeeded by a sharp, determined rapping upon my chamber door.
Shaking off the horror which, even then, retained a lingering hold on my spirit, I bade the caller enter. My door swung in upon its hinges and a tall, broad-shouldered figure stood silhouetted within the frame. He posed there for a moment, critically surveying my quarters before delivering a statement of such stentorian quality that it smote upon my ears like the discharge of a cannon. The content of his remark was no less surprising than its volume.
"Well I'll be jiggered if it ain't as glum as a bear-cave in here," he boomed.
So startling was this comment that, as if by reflex, I swivelled in my chair and parted the heavy curtains obscuring the window behind me. Owing to the lateness of the hour (which was rapidly approaching dinnertime), as well as the sullenness of the weather, only a modicum of daylight was admitted by my action. Still, this illumination, added to that of my table lamp, proved sufficient for me to take stock of my visitor.
He cut an imposing figure. Though his height fell several inches short of six feet, he appeared to be a man of nearly Herculean stature: an effect that was in large part due to his erect, indeed military, carriage, as well as to the exceptional span of his shoulders and chest. His full head of thick, black hair framed a visage of equally striking character. There was something in his features — the piercing blue eyes, hawklike nose, and prominent chin — that spoke of boundless interior strength and resolution. To this must be added a vague yet palpable air of natural bonhomie. Perhaps his most noticeable characteristic, however, was his robust complexion, which attested to a life of rugged outdoor pursuit.
This latter impression was heightened by his clothing; for though his garments were of the most presentable cut and fashion — high-collared coat, gray-striped pantaloons, stiff shirtfront and cerulean cravat — he seemed strangely constricted in this formal attire, as though he were more accustomed to the loose-fitting garb of the yeoman or hunter.
My inspection of this singular individual — who had yet to trouble himself with the nicety of an introduction — lasted no more than a few seconds. Determined to learn his identity without further delay, I parted my lips and made ready to speak. Before I could give voice to my question, however, he withdrew a folded sheet of paper from his side pocket and opened it with a flourish.
"I reckon I had best say why I'm here, for I see that you are set to bust like an airthquake with curiosity," he declared in his unmistakable backwoods "drawl." There was something strangely familar in his manner of speech, as though I had heard his voice before. Where I had encountered it, however, remained a mystery, for it was indisputably the case that I had never laid eyes on him before.
"Mighty poor light in here for a feller to read by," he muttered, turning his paper this way and that.
Focussing my attention on this item, I now perceived that it was a printed page which had been detached from a book or periodical. Its tattered right edge offered conspicuous proof that it been carelessly — even violently — removed from its source.
Having finally settled on a position, my visitor began to read in a manner which suggested that, though not entirely foreign to him, this activity was by no means habitual. His halting pronunciation, however, in no way impeded the forcefulness of his delivery, which was enlivened by his colorful interjections.
"' — Moreover, we find this work cens...cens-u-rable' — consarn it, but that's a jawbreaker! — for the frequent vulgarity of its language — '"
As I sat there listening, my bemusement at his performance rapidly turned into astonishment, for it did not take me long to recognize that he was reading from a work of my own! — a review that I had lately contributed to Mr. Thomas White's enterprising new journal, the Southern Literary Messenger.
A realization began to dawn within me. At that moment, however, I was distracted from my thoughts by a lively commotion outside my window, as though from a congregation of chattering schoolboys. Though their words were indistinct, there was no mistaking their tone of excited incredulity.
In the meantime, my visitor continued with his reading. "'If the author wishes to make himself a laughingstock, that is his affair. We see no reason, however, why the public should support him in this undertaking, and we would regard ourselves as remiss if we did not warn the unwary away from such fiddle-faddle.'"
With this sharp, though by no means undeserved, admonition, my review ended — and with it the stranger's recitation. Looking up from the page, he crushed it into a ball and dropped it unceremoniously onto my writing table.
"Well, sir," he said, placing his hands upon his hips and regarding me with a challenging air. "I don't suppose you'll deny that them disfavorable words was written by you."
"I would not under any circumstances disavow my opinions," I coolly replied. "I do, however, insist that you offer an explanation for this remarkable intrusion."
"Why, if you ain't figgered that out yet, I don't suppose you're as all-fired smart as your fancy speechifyin' would have folks believe."
This retort so piqued my anger that — in spite of his superior physique (to say nothing of the debilitating influence which Valdemar's study had exerted on my overstrung nerves) — I half rose from my seat, prepared to forcibly eject the impudent stranger from my chamber.
At that very instant, however, I heard the patter of approaching feet. Suddenly a tiny figure burst into the room. I recognized him at once as Jimmy Johnston, the youngest son of the merchant whose family occupied the residence adjacent to my own. In his wake followed a half-dozen of his playmates. They crowded into the doorway while little Jimmy gazed upward, his expression suffused with such undisguised wonder that he might have been beholding one of Nature's marvels: the snowcapped peaks of the mighty Rocky Mountains, for example, or the roaring cataracts of Niagara.
"Is it...is it really you?" the awestruck boy finally managed to stutter.
Emitting a laugh that seemed to originate in the depths of his capacious chest, the stranger leaned down and placed a hand on the shoulder of the gaping lad.
"Right you are, young 'un. I'll be shot if you ain't a dang sight quicker than some other folks hereabouts."
Drawing himself up to his full height, he threw his head back and exclaimed, "I am Colonel David Crockett for a fact. Half-horse, half-alligator, with a little touch of the snapping turtle thrown in. I can shoot straighter, run faster, dive deeper, fight harder — and write better — than any man in the whole country."
Then, turning his gaze directly at me, he grinned with a ferocious glee. "And I'm here to skin the infernal hide off'n any lowdown cricket who claims different."

Copyright © 1999 by Harold Schechter

What People are Saying About This

Anne Poe Lehr
Gripping, suspenseful...A splendid job of capturing the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe. I'm sure my late, great cousin would have loved Nevermore.

Meet the Author

Harold Schechter is a professor of American literature and culture. Renowned for his true-crime writing, he is the author of the nonfiction books Fatal, Fiend, Bestial, Deviant, Deranged, Depraved, and, with David Everitt, The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. He is also the author of Nevermore and The Hum Bug, the acclaimed historical novels featuring Edgar Allan Poe. He lives in New York State.

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Nevermore 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
songcatchers More than 1 year ago
Nevermore is an enthralling mystery! I couldn't put it down. The story was great but it was the interaction between Edgar Allen Poe and Davy Crockett that made the story so fun. The chain of events and close calls that lead Poe and Crockett to the close of the case, are in the end, a source Eddie Poe uses to write his own stories. At the end of the novel, we find that Poe has used the incidents of the fire at the Asher house (Fall of the House of Usher), his suspension over a bottomless pit(The Pit and the Pendulum), finding a corpse under the floor boards(Tell-Tale Heart), and many more such adventures as material for short stories.

I am an enthusiastic re-reader of books and Nevermore is one I will visit forever more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. Mr. Schechter captures Edgar Allen Poe's style of literature in a most entertaining manner. I appreciated the vocabulary used as it stretched me, often reaching for the dictionary, to fully drink in the tapestry of the writing. The humor tickled me, but Crockett's witty descriptions wore a little thin by the end of the book. I was glad to see Davy off to Texas and 'Immortality' at the story's conclusion. I'm hooked on the series and will look for a copy of Hum Bug to read next in line.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this a while a go and was so amazed. I absolutky loved this book and the details that went into it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tediously overwritten; the worst example of the genre I have encountered.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is a fun murder mystery. Edgar Allan Poe makes a great protagonist. I love how the character is not a hero in the traditional sense. The writing is really beatiful. It is definately worth a look.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I read this novel, I was expecting something totally different! When I begain reading, I was certainlly rooked. I couldn't stop reading. I would have never thought that Davy Crockett and Edger Allen Poe would be such a great duo. OK, so at the beginning they seemed like enemys, but they are friends in the end. I thought this was great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutley loved this novel! I am not one for murder mysteries, I normally read about love stories and such, but I must admit, I loved it and would recommend it to anyone!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I say.. Poe as played by Niles Crane! Kidding aside, it was one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time. The interplay between Poe and Crockett, indeed Poe and everyone was delightful. The response of the Wharfmen: 'Whut's he say?', the interplay with Muddy and Sissy, ah, my sensitive nature recoils from expounding on the shee r brilliance, and may I say, magnificence of....
Guest More than 1 year ago
Before reading Harold Schechter's 'Nevermore' you may want to check that a couple of things are in your possession. The first is a liking, or even a love, of Poe. The second is the ability to view him and his body of work with a sense of humor. If you lack either, place the book back on the shelf and hurry on to considering something else. If you possess both, clutch 'Nevermore' firmly in your sweating grasp and make your way to the counter. The story seems a parody of Poe, not an effort to nail his life down. I take it to be filled with (thankfully) subtle humor regarding his person, his body of work, and his often needlessly meandering and overblown style of writing. This is what Mr. Schechter told me, 'When I decided to write it as a novel and began doing it in Poe's voice, I discovered that there was something pricelessly comic in Poe's pompodity, particularly when juxtaposed with Davy's downhome crudeness.' As the story opens Schechter doesn't hit quite close enough to his intentions. The result is that things are a little jarring. This problem quickly disappears. Now and then he hits TOO closely and I found myself thinking, 'Will you just shut up and get on with the story!' Just like reading Poe. Overall, Schechter does an amazing job of approximating Poe's patterns, mannerisms and diction. But, it's easily seen that Schecter held back in his imitation of Poe's style. He tossed in a goodly number of words that were bound to send some readers scurrying for their dictionary, but not to the degree that Poe was guilty of the same crime. Ditto on foreign terms. Regarding Schechter's 'needless' use of italics, those who have actually read Poe will know that he was far guiltier of the same offense. If anything, Schechter generally used italics to better affect than Poe did, again giving us only a reasonable approximation of Poe's style. The character of Crockett comes across as a man who intentionally plays up his backwoods mannerisms, partly to hide a genuine lack of sophistication, partly to make his intelligence more apparent by its contrast. Just like Schecter isn't trying to outright duplicate Poe's style, he isn't trying to nail down Poe's or Crockett's actual personas. As for the meat of the story, the mystery itself is only partially successful. It starts out with a couple of convenient stupidities, but from there gets better. It did throw me off a couple of times when I was certain that I knew what was about to happen. I'm not sure that hardcore Mystery fans will find the book to their liking unless they also meet the criteria I laid out in my opening paragraph. What seemed obvious to me was that the story (and with it the mystery) was secondary to the fairly humorous play on Poe's ego and style. Mr. Schechter confirmed this, saying, 'The real heart of the book for me was the interplay between the two male characters--a la LETHAL WEAPON or that sort of buddy-movie.' For those who enjoyed 'Nevermore', look forward to Schechter's next novel. It's titled 'The Hum Bug' and teams Poe with P.T. Barnum. As amusing as the Poe/Crockett teaming was, this one should leave it in the dust. P.T. every bit as self-absorbed as Poe. The two should mix like oil and flame.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Schechter is best known for his true-crime histories, but here he turns to an imaginative collision between Col. Davy Crockett and Edgar A. Poe in Baltimore nearly 2 centuries ago. The two are forced to team up to solve a number of mysterious and obviously connected murders. The story is told in an amazing simultation of Poe's style, both a parody and an affectionate tribute. This is the kind of thing only a University professor (as Schechter is) could pull off! Recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An exceptionally well written book true the voice and style of Poe. Any die-hard Poe fan will be pleasantly surprised by the allusions to many of Poe's most famous works. Comic relief is also a plus with the unlikely pairing of Poe with the legendary Davy Crocket. Slows down in a few places, and may at times seem predictable, but is well worth the trip!