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May 21, 2006|By DONNA RIFKIND | DONNA RIFKIND,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Absurdistan

Gary Shteyngart

The Poe Shadow

Matthew Pearl

Random House / 384 pages / $24.95

The death in Baltimore of Edgar Allan Poe has been cloaked in ambiguity, rumor and fabrication since the day it happened in October 1849. Matthew Pearl, author of the best-selling literary-historical thriller The Dante Club (2003), is the latest in a long line of devotees to make inquiries into Poe's demise, this time in the form of a suspense novel.

Blending scrupulous research with his own fictional flourishes, Pearl invents a young lawyer, Quentin Clark, who becomes obsessed with rescuing Poe's reputation after witnessing the author's hasty, ill-attended funeral. Neglecting both his law practice and his fiancee, Clark travels to Paris to find the detective who served as the model for Poe's Murder in the Rue Morgue sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin - the only man, Clark believes, who can solve the puzzle of Poe's untimely death. What follows is a satisfyingly Poe-like tale of psychological intrigue, villainy and murder, all dressed up in rich period detail and locution. Despite occasional lapses into expository long-windedness, Pearl's narrative is distinguished by a genuine appreciation for Poe's ongoing influence. What other American literary genius, after all, can claim to have inspired the name of an NFL team?

Donna Rifkind is a former literary agent and magazine editor whose writing has been published by Commentary, The Times Literary Supplement and The New York Times.

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