Friday, August 8, 2008

The Beautiful Cigar Girl by Daniel Stashower


The last time anyone saw Mary C. Rogers of New York was Sunday July 25, 1841. To this day the crime remains unsolved. While Stashower makes no attempt to unravel this mystery in The Beautiful Cigar Girl, Edgar Allan Poe believes he is able to do so through his fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin, who has already proven himself in The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

This book is, at once, a true crime about the disappearance of Mary Rogers and a biography of Edgar Allan Poe. Frankly, more Poe than Rogers, which was fine by me, he's a fascinating character.

Stashower follows Poe's life from the death of his, actor, parents, through his short-lived riches as a ward of the Allan family, to his life of constant struggle to get ahead while being done in by both much of his own doings and his being taken advantage of by employers, publishers and partners.

This work is also a fascinating eye-opener to the workings of the "penny press" of this era. It would appear that the newspapaers of the day were far more rumor, speculation and editorial opionion than fact, which seems sadly lacking, even in the Police Gazette. This, no doubt, coupled with the police being paid bonuses by victims when property was recovered, added to the problem of solving a murder, where the victim was not wealthy and there was no property to recover. As a matter of fact, Ms Rogers had been missing for a week before the police began investigating her death, due to the pressure of the city editors, who were familiar with Mary through her work as the counter girl at Anderson's Cigar Store. Possibly because of this delay in the investigation, police found themselves at a number of dead ends in finding Mary's killer, or killers.

Poe felt that his own detection abilities could solve this murder where the police had failed and employed Dupin to do so in The Mystery of Marie Roget, which was released in three installments for the Ladies' Companion. The reworking of the finale of this story put a twist on Poe's personality that had not occurred to me before, but makes perfect sense.

The title, The Beautiful Cigar Girl, is a bit misleading. This book is really a biography of Edgar Allan Poe and a study in how fiction is developed from fact. It also serves to peak the readers' interest in the workings of the press in the mid 19th century. Well worth the read.

Title: The Beautiful Cigar Girl
Author: Daniel Stashower
Publisher: Berkley
ISBN: 978-0-425-21782-5

5 comments:

Cathy said...

I agree with you. It was all about Poe, not Rogers, which I think made it a much more interesting book. Thanks for the review!

NoBS said...

Thanks for your comment, Cathy. It's encouraging to know that people have an interest in what I have to "say" on this blog.

Erin said...

This looks like an interesting book. I'm adding it to my wishlist. Thanks for the review!

Cathy said...

I know what you mean, "Nobs". Sometimes it's like speaking into a void, eh?

Rose City Reader said...

This sounds really great!

I read a lot of Poe in college, but never Murder at the Rue Morgue. Now I want to read the novel, then the biography (would you recommend that approach?).

19th Century books have really been appealing to me lately, so I am happy to give this general mood a focus.