Interweaving real and fictional elements, The American Boy is a major new literary historical crime novel in the tradition of An Instance of the Fingerpost and Possession.
England 1819. Two enigmatic Americans arrive in London and soon after a bank collapses. A man is found dead and horribly mutilated on a building site. Another goes missing in the teeming stews of Seven Dials. A deathbed vigil ends in an act of theft. A beautiful heiress flirts with her inferiors. At the edge of all these mysteries is the American boy Edgar Allan Poe, brought to England by his foster father and sent to the leafy village of Stoke Newington to be educated.
Drawn into this web of intrigue is a poor schoolmaster, Thomas Shield, who struggles to understand what is happening before it destroys him and those he loves. But the truth, like the youthful Poe himself, has its origins in the new world as well as the old.
The American Boy is a 21st-century novel with a 19th-century voice. It is both a multi-layered literary murder mystery and a love story, its setting ranging from the coal-scented fogs of late Regency London to the stark winter landscapes of rural Gloucestershire. And at its heart is the boy who does not really belong anywhere, an actor who never learns the significance of his part.
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Praise for The American Boy:
'In the end, the myriad mysteries of The American Boy are all neatly accounted for, as one would expect from a thriller writer such as Taylor. But he has transcended any limitations of genre in this novel, for it is a wonderful book, richly composed and beautifully written, an enthralling read from start to finish' The Times
'Creates an atmosphere close to Sarah Waters' Fingersmith in the convincing depiction of a sadistic underworld. Taylor's deeply absorbing and beautifully written book is a fitting tribute to the founding father of crime fiction' Independent
'A most artful and delightful book, that will both amuse and chill, and it will have you desperate to search out a quiet corner to continue your acquaintance with it' Daily Telegraph
'Taylor spins a magnificent tangential web… The book is full of sharply-etched details evoking Dickensian London and is also a love story, shot through with the pain of a penniless and despised lover. This novel has the literary values which should take it to the top of the lists' Scotland on Sunday'
'It is as if Taylor has used the great master of the bizarre as both starting- and finishing- point, but in between created a period piece with its own unique voice.The result should satisfy those drawn to the fictions of the 19th century, or Poe, or indeed to crime writing at its most creative' Spectator
‘Like Poe’s fiction,Taylor’s beguiling story and atmospheric evocation of Regency London and the winter landscapes of Gloucestershire cry out for a wingback chair by a blazing chair. Hugely entertaining' ObserverFrom the Author:
The American Boy is a historical novel, a murder mystery and a love story. I set out to write a Wilkie Collins novel set in Jane Austen's England - and with Edgar Allan Poe, then 10 years old, among the secondary characters. But Poe has more effect on the course of events than either he or the narrator Tom Shield realises.
In a way there are two narratives - the love story and murder mystery with the schoolmaster and Waterloo veteran Tom Shield at its heart; and the secret narrative of Poe and his imagination that flows like an underground river beneath.
Poe's mother was English. The novel takes as its starting point the fact that Poe as a boy spent five years in England with his foster parents. They lived in London, and Poe went to school in Stoke Newington, then a leafy village.
At that time, just after Waterloo, Great Britain was the world's solitary superpower. London was the greatest city ever known: Washington, New York and Los Angeles rolled into one with a dash of Las Vegas. It was also a huge building site, as the surrounding countryside disappeared beneath new houses, and new roads were punched through the maze of existing streets. Then as now, opulence rubbed shoulders with appalling poverty.
America, by contrast, was a brash little country, less than forty years old, on the edge of the civilised world. The recent War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain had ended in stalemate, despite the fact that the British captured Washington and burned the Capitol and the White House.
Poe's life was bracketed between two mysteries. First, when he was little more than a baby, his actor-father vanished. His English-born mother died soon afterwards, leaving him to the care of foster parents.
Second, Poe himself vanished, a few days before his death in 1849. He disappeared from Richmond, Virginia, and reappeared a week later in Baltimore, Maryland - in a state of mental agony and physical prostration. He said that the best thing a friend could do for him would be to blow out his brains with a pistol. Four days later he was dead. No one knows where he had been or what had happened to him, any more than they know what happened to his father.
These unresolved mysteries formed part of the inspiration for The American Boy. Edgar Allan Poe is the author of "The Raven", America's most famous poem, and one of the founding fathers of many branches of modern literature - among them the detective story, the ghost story, science fiction, and the psychological thriller. His admirers included Dickens and Baudelaire, Abraham Lincoln and Josef Stalin.
But his work and reputation are also known to people who rarely read a book. Like Sherlock Holmes and Dracula, Poe's creations have become part of our common culture. Poe has inspired musicians from Rachmaninov to Lou Reed. His works underpins films, plays, ballets and a Simpsons Halloween special. Michael Jackson is reported to be working on a movie in which he will play Poe. Poe's fascination with morbid psychology, with the dark secrets of the human heart, have a universal resonance.
For more information, try the excellent website of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Maryland
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Book Description Flamingo, 2003. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. First Edition. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX000710961X
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Book Description Flamingo, 2003. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P11000710961X