Archive for Victorian mystery books

Jan
20

Mysterious Poe Toaster is No More…

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Edgar Allan PoeFamed poet and author Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on Jan 19, 1809, and after having lived in Baltimore, London, New York, Philadelphia and Richmond, died in Baltimore in 1849 at the young age of 40. He was buried at the Westminster Burial Ground in what is now downtown Baltimore. The cause of Poe’s death has been hotly debated, with some even speculating that he was murdered.

Known for his dark poems and stories such as The Raven, and The Murders in the Rue Morgue (arguably the earliest modern detective story), Poe’s literary legacy lives on more than 200 years after his birth. Indeed, a loyal fan of Poe’s work has been visiting his grave on his birthday for more than six decades, each time leaving three roses and half a bottle of cognac as an offering. Dubbed the Poe Toaster, this mysterious fan always dresses in a black frock coat, wide-brimmed black hat, and a white scarf.

The Poe Toaster has himself become a bit of an attraction, with fans coming from around the Baltimore region and further afield to catch a glimpse of him at the grave on Poe’s birthday.  Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Poe House and Museum, has led a vigil for the Poe Toaster at Westminster Burial Ground since 1978. However, in 2010, the mysterious Poe Toaster failed to appear, after years of consistent tributes to the author of the macabre. Fans kept vigil again in 2011, but saw only an imposter, who showed up in a limousine, accompanied by a number of women.

Fans had decided that 2012 would be the last year that they kept the vigil for the Toaster. They were again disappointed this past Thursday. Jerome told reporters that the real Poe Toaster did not appear, although there were (again) a number of impersonators. “It’s over with”, Jerome said wistfully. But Jerome still believes that the Poe Toaster will remain part of the lore around Poe. A fan who has been keeping vigil for the past seven years agreed and saidm “There are so few mysteries… it’s a throwback to a more romantic time when people could have secrets.”

 

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may be rolling in his grave at the new Sherlock Holmes film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, but I predict that film-goers will be rolling into the movie theatres! Out in cinemas today, this film’s release is perfectly timed, and is sure to be a big hit with audiences looking for something fun and action-packed to complement the festive Christmas and holiday spirit.

Guy Ritchie’s had a run of abominable films, so it’s heartening to see him back in top form with this film. The movie isn’t  true to Conan Doyle’s books, but that’s nothing new for movie adaptations. At least all the familiar characters make an appearance. Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes is not the cerebral and sedentary Holmes of old. Instead, he’s brilliant, but also a man of action, careening from one disaster to another, ever-charming and full of sardonic wit.

The bromance between Holmes and his sidekick Watson (played by the delectable Jude Law as a somewhat fussy Victorian gentleman) that first made its appearance in 2009’s blockbuster Sherlock Holmes movie also continues. Holmes goes so far as to try to ruin poor Watson’s honeymoon, while also trying to save the couple from the fix that he puts them in. Holmes later cross-dresses, and propositions Watson. Oo, er, Missus! Holmes’ arch nemesis Dr Moriarty (the excellent Jared Harris) serves again as the villainous villain who Holmes has to contend with. Separately, the delightfully wry Stephen Fry makes a (nude!) appearance as Holmes’ brother, Mycroft.

This rollicking adventure set in Victorian England involves non-stop action, exploding trains, a plot to start a world war, laugh-out-loud witty dialogue, fisticuffs, and infectious fun. The game’s afoot in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and this movie is just the perfect thing for the holiday season! Not convinced? Check out the movie trailer, and the choice to go see it will be elementary, my dear Reader!

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Murder on Waverly Place by Victoria ThompsonTitle: Murder on Waverly Place
Author: Victoria Thompson
Release Date: June 2, 2009
Pages: 304
Genre: Historical Mystery
Best Book Quote: “I think about her every morning, when I wake up, in that one blissful moment when I emerge from the sweet oblivion of sleep, and for one second, one single second, there’s the possibility that she’s still in the world and I might see her happy for one more day. And then I remember.”

Victoria Thompson creates a strong sense of atmosphere in Murder on Waverly Place, the 11th book in her Gaslight series.

Those of you who are familiar with sleuth Sarah Brandt know that she is a midwife who devotes herself to saving poor people in need in the slums of New York City. Her mother, the wealthy Mrs. Decker, is still struggling with guilt over the death (in childbirth) of Sarah’s sister, Maggie. In an attempt to contact Maggie’s spirit, Mrs. Decker attends a couple of shady séances, the kind that were very popular during the Victorian era. At one of the séances someone is killed. Sarah and her perennial love interest, Detective Frank Molloy, try to get to the bottom of what really happened.

It was nice to read more about the emotional reasons behind Sarah’s interest in midwifery in this book. And, as in all of Thompson’s Gaslight books, there is a strong sense of 19th century New York. If you’re a fan of historical mysteries, Murder on Waverly Place is a must read.

Southampton Row by Anne PerryTitle: Southampton Row
Author: Anne Perry
Release Date: February 4, 2003
Pages: 352
Genre: Historical Mystery
Best Book Quote: “I expect you to make this morally uncomfortable for me, but be civil enough not to make it physically so as well.”

Politics and spirits make deadly bedfellows in Southampton Row, the 22nd book in Anne Perry’s popular series set in Victorian England.

After being rudely dismissed from his policing duties—again—Thomas Pitt is asked to investigate Charles Voisey, a conservative politician and aristocrat who is running for Parliament. This will be an onerous task because there’s bad blood between the two men. Opposing Voisey is Liberal candidate Aubrey Serracold. But when Serracold’s wife gets involved with a spiritualist who winds up dead, Pitt has to get to the truth to keep Serracold’s candidacy from being flushed down the toilet.

As always, Anne Perry’s writing is extremely strong in Southampton Row. She does an excellent job of conveying the textures and sounds of Victorian-era England. Highly recommended!

My final thoughts

Both Murder on Waverly Place and Southampton Row should be popular with established readers of the two series. Southampton Row contains a fair amount of back story from a previous Charlotte & Thomas Pitt Novel (The Whitechapel Conspiracy), but the fast-moving story line should keep everyone turning the pages. Murder on Waverly Place adds depth to the emotional background of Sarah and her mother, which should please existing fans of the Gaslight books. Everyone will enjoy the seances in Murder on Waverly Place–the tinge of paranormal intrigue seemed pitch-perfect for a Victorian mystery.

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The Fleet Street Murders by Charles FinchTitle: The Fleet Street Murders
Author: Charles Finch
Release Date: July 20, 2010
Pages: 320
Genre: Victorian Mystery

Best Book Quote: After he was gone Martha came in, ignoring the body and the long knife protruding from its back, and went to the window, took the rope ladder back up, and after raking the coals again began the slow process of burning it, as downstairs her children slept.

On a quiet Christmas night in Victorian-era London, two prominent journalists are slain within minutes of each other. The Fleet Street is the third installment in Charles Finch’s Victorian mystery series, about an amateur British detective named Charles Lenox.

When the murdered bodies of Fleet Street newspapermen Winston Carruthers and Simon Pierce are discovered in different sections of London on Christmas night in 1865, Lenox suspects that the killings may be related, but he hesitates before getting involved. After all, Scotland Yard doesn’t usually welcome assistance from an amateur sleuth, and this case is no exception. In fact, Inspector Exeter, a cranky but powerful policeman, insists to anyone who will listen that the case is all but solved. But then Inspector Exeter is himself attacked, and Lenox becomes convinced that the assault is connected to the murders of the two journalists.

Lenox has his own worries that threaten to distract him from the investigation: not only is he running for a seat in Parliament against a tough opponent, but his engagement to the charming Lady Jane Grey seems to have hit a stumbling block. As Lenox juggles his personal and political priorities, he struggles to unravel a crime that seems to become more complicated with each new revelation.

Author Charles Finch, who was nominated for an Agatha Award for A Beautiful Blue Death (the first book in the series), successfully maintains the balance of elements that are required for a compelling Victorian mystery book. Lenox, the detective and aristocrat, is a dapper and appealing character, the pacing is appropriate for the genre, and there’s enough period detail to make you feel like you’re walking the streets of London, circa 1865.

If you’re a fan of historical mystery books, particularly the Victorian era, I think you will enjoy this book. The Fleet Street Murders continues Finch’s winning streak as an accomplished mystery novelist.

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