Edgar Allan Poe arguably one of America's most influential writers makes an appearance in Andrew Taylor's literary thriller An Unpardonable Crime. Although Poe, a precocious 10-year-old living with his foster family in London in 1819, is very much a peripheral figure in Taylor's grisly tale of treachery and murder, he is the spindle on which the numerous plots and subplots revolve. The story is narrated by Thomas Shield, Edgar Allan's teacher at the Reverend Bransby's Manor House School. A disgraced veteran of the battle of Waterloo who was recently hospitalized for mental instability, Shield is a highly intelligent and hopelessly romantic man struggling to find his place in an England of extremes ranging from the lavish mansions of Mayfair to the crumbling tenements of St. Giles and Seven Dials. While at the school, Shield becomes involved with two young students who have befriended each other: Charles Frant, the overly sheltered son of a prominent banker, and Edgar Allan, the foster son of an American businessman managing his interests in London. In a series of gruesome plot twists that would make Poe himself proud an audacious deathbed robbery, a brutal murder, an incarceration in a coffin, the discovery of a rotting human fingertip and a French-speaking parrot squawking enigmatic warnings Shield slowly loses control of his own destiny as he is drawn into a dangerous game of subterfuge and duplicity.
Aside from the rich descriptions (the use of fog as metaphor throughout is brilliant), the most notable aspect of this novel is Taylor's masterful use of some of Poe's most renowned themes, including victimization, extreme states of existence, mysterious presences and mourning for the dead. A delectably dark blend of mystery, gothic horror, romance and literary history, An Unpardonable Crime will leave readers captivated until the very end a fittingly macabre tribute to the master of the macabre.