Words And Peace is ten years old. Among other things, it means I receive a lot of review copy offers every week. And I say no to probably 99%. When I saw the subtitle of the book Bruce Wetterau was offering me, I paid more attention. Once I had read the synopsis, I was hooked. And I am so so happy I said yes to The Girl Behind the Wall: Edgar Allan Poe, the Girl and the Mysterious Raven Murders.
The very beginning of the book sets the ambiance: reporter Samuel Reynolds is looking for a man in cold and rainy Manhattan, in 1849. And he finds him: he’s none other than a half-dead drunk and delirious Edgar Allan Poe.
Then we meet Clay Cantrell and his friend Mac doing today a repair job in a tunnel at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. They end up finding a girl walled up. She is still wearing a locket, which contains the words, “My beloved Annabel. Your devoted Eddy. October 1826.”
Could this Eddy be Edgar Allan Poe, as he did spend a year at UVA? And if yes, what’s his connection to this girl? Could he have murdered her and hidden her there?
The plot goes back and forth between Edgar in the final year of his life, and the research done by Clay and Mac to understand who the girl is, and who did that to her. In the process, they are helped by a couple of UVA history teachers.
From his part, reporter Samuel also wants to know why Poe has these crazy hallucinations and keeps mumbling in his delirium about a certain Annabel. If he can prove he killed her, his journalist career would be assured.
Now, if you know well Poe, you may have found that story of a woman walled up familiar, as there’s something similar in his short story The Cask of Amontillado. And the name Annabel I’m sure made you think of one of his famous poems. These are just two of the many examples of how Wetterau so cleverly invented a plot where so many elements of Poe’s life (behavior, health and social condition) and writings find their place.
Things get actually more complicated for the Clay-Mac team, as a girl is murdered on campus. Could this murder be somehow related to Annabel’s death? Of course, they also want to investigate that part, but when they get too close to solving the mystery, the murderer adds them to his list of potential victims.
To make this part more intriguing, the author intersperses passages about the killer aka the Raven (!), and his doings.
I am really impressed by the amount of research the author did on Poe (actually even a character in the book recommends some biographies on him, in chapter 2) and how he managed to invent a complete plot and insert so many elements of Poe’s life and writings in it. It is honestly brilliant. It also invited me to reread a few stories and poems by Poe as I devoured this mystery.
I happened to visit UVA fairly recently, so it was doubly fun to enjoy all the great descriptions of the campus. And that crazy chase scene in chapter 22!!
Clay is from Staunton, a charming city I also visited, and he renovates some of these gorgeous Victorian houses. He even goes to Blackfriars Playhouse, a faithful recreation of Shakespeare’s original indoor theater. A must place to visit if you are in the area. The guide there gave us great explanations.
Besides descriptions of places, the author does a great job at talking about a trendy practice of the time, mesmerism (now better known as hypnotism).
The ending was fabulously done as well, with a very clever solution.
Incidentally, it was a bit odd to me to see that the official detective was called DeMarco, as that’s the name of the detective in the series I like so much by Randall Silvis. I wonder if Wetterau likes this author a lot as well, and it was a way of acknowledging him.
The author included an afterword about facts and fiction in his novel, as well as a timeline about Poe’s last year of his life.
My only regret of this book is that it is self-published, and so it will get a limited readership. If you are among readers still hesitating when you know a book is self-published, please put all your hesitations aside. I repeat, the book is brilliant. Please, spread the word! And the ebook is only $2.99!
Plus, I believe I found only one typo (I think a character was misnamed at one point), and my copy is an ARC.
I wish a big publisher would notice it and republish it to make it known to more people. And it would nicely work as a movie as well!
Now I plan to reread some more of Poe’s stories, and read a biography recommended by Professor Rivera.
VERDICT: A brilliant self-published novel. If you love Poe’s writings and a clever mystery, you will find the perfect combination in The Girl Behind the Wall.
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this book free of charge for review. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.