An Unpardonable Crime

 

by Andrew Taylor (Hyperion)

 

(This column first appeared in the July 1, 2004 issue of ArtVoice of Buffalo.)

 

In An Unpardonable Crime Andrew Taylor, a prolific English author, takes us back to 1819 London and its nearby suburbs and immerses us in the often messy and dirty life of that time. (One thing I came away from this book with was greater appreciation for modern conveniences and especially plumbing.) It is the story of a poor schoolteacher, Thomas Shield, a veteran of Waterloo, who is brought into contact with what others - but not thank goodness Taylor - would call "his betters" including the families of several bakers, a lawyer and some country squires. A murder takes place and Shield is unwillingly drawn into the search for not only the killer but the identity of the victim whose features have been destroyed. Mixed in with this are two of Shield's students, one of them the young orphan, Edgar Allen, who turns out to be Edgar Allen Poe. Shields is also drawn to two attractive young women who have their own problems. What is best about this book is its clear Dickens-like writing and the associated experiences that give you a good feel of the time. What is less attractive is the lack of connection of Poe and his father to the story's plot and a couple of deus ex machina intercessions toward the end. This book won the 2003 Crime Writers of America Historical Dagger, an award which, despite my expressed reservations, I believe was well deserved.-- Gerry Rising