by Leigh M. Lane
Review by Darkeva
Edgar Allan Poe, equally claimed by horror writers and mystery writers as the grandfather of both genres, if not the founder of one or both depending on who you talk to, remains a subject of intense fascination for readers everywhere. His contributions and advances to world literature are engraved in time. He’s also considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. As people continue to discover his work for the first time every day, and he gains new readers years after his untimely death at the age of 40, Poe remains a figure of great intrigue in the hearts and minds of horror writers. Perhaps no American writer has focused so much on death, his Gothic works atmospheric and brooding. It’s no wonder, then, that other horror writers have focused so much on Poe, and some of whom have centered their own fiction around him.
I found the initial premise of Leigh M. Lane’s Gothic horror novel, Finding Poe, to be intriguing because of my own interest in Poe, and even though it isn’t the only work of fiction centered around Poe’s last days and his mysterious death, it’s done differently than others, including The Lighthouse at the End of the World by Stephen Marlowe (1995) in which Poe’s invented detective, C. Auguste Dupin, tries to solve his disappearance.
In Finding Poe, Leigh M. Lane posits that “The Light-House,” – Poe’s last known-and unfinished work – may have been related to his death. However, if you haven’t read “The Light-House” by Poe or aren’t familiar with its plot, you may find it difficult to follow the story in Finding Poe, which involves a lot of plot jumping. In “The Light-House,” an old man lives in a lighthouse and has a dog, Neptune. Some argue it’s his most autobiographical work and that the lighthouse represents Poe himself, alone and isolated, but scholars draw multiple meanings from such literary works.
Although Poe is, of course, a character in Finding Poe, he doesn’t come into play until the latter half of the novel, and although the portrayal is largely faithful to the way history remembers the reclusive author, I found myself wishing he jumped off the page a tad more.
The main character we follow for most of the book is Karina, the wife of Brantley, a friend of Poe’s, and they have moved into a lighthouse. At first, the atmosphere called to mind shades of Tim Burton’s film, Sleepy Hollow, but things get brighter for her once she finds a friendly dog, Neptune. She meets some men who look like they’re up to no good, and they send their servant, Jupiter, to escort her back to town. Turns out they’re looking for some rumored buried treasure, which Brantley wanted Karina to find.
Although the dialogue tends a bit toward the melodramatic, as the story goes on, things get more interesting. Karina has a recurring nightmare about being on a ship that gets swallowed. She and Brantley have a massive row, and Karina makes it her mission to deliver a letter to Poe in Baltimore. En route, she finds out more about Neptune, and his first mysterious owner.
When she arrives in Baltimore, no one has heard of Poe. She gets a job washing linens at the hotel where she’s staying, and looks for him on weekends and evenings. She also encounters a woman who she thinks is her double, chases her into a bar, and finds herself face to face with a guy who she asserts must have her mistaken for the double, but he won’t hear any of it.
The stranger knows Poe, and seems bewildered at her request to see him. When she goes “home,” she’s addressed as Mrs. Allan, which made me think Karina was re-living a past life as Poe’s adoptive mother. I had many theories about what was going on, but every time I thought I had it figured out, the plot would veer in another direction to keep the reader guessing.
She continues to relive her drowning nightmare, then finds herself with Brantley again, and though he’s tender at first, it doesn’t take long for him to turn into his caddish self. She thinks she’s hallucinating, but he tells her she’s somnambulating (sleepwalking) again.
Karina does meet Poe, but thinks she’s gone mad or that she’s a ghost, and finds herself in a mental institution along with other women, and although subtle, once the reader understands the idea behind what Lane has suggested here, it’s actually quite clever.
Finding Poe should definitely be on every Poe-obsessed reader’s TBR pile, and although it’s not as commercial as The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl or The Murder of Edgar Allan Poe by George Egon Hatvary, it’s a different take on the Poe story that hasn’t been done to death before. There are also a number of graphic novels involving Poe, and one in particular that I would urge readers to get a hold of is In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe by Jonathan Scott Fuqua in which a professor finds Poe’s diary, written on his deathbed, and reveals that Poe made deals with demons in order to write his stories. Whatever Poe is doing, writers will continue to come up with interesting new ways to bring freshness to his fascinating story.