Augie Dubbins, now a teenager, meets back up with Poe after receiving word of Virginia’s death. A letter from Alfred Brunrichter, a prominent scientist & doctor of Pittsburgh, invites Poe to the city for a few readings and, as a plus, the fawning admiration of the local literary society. The pair accept & travel to the city, only to find themselves tangled in another mystery–young girls from the area have been disappearing without a trace from the busy streets. Both our protagonists try to solve the crime: Augie to help propel himself into a career as a journalist, Poe to reclaim his status as the father of the detective novel. But the relationship between the two has altered over the past seven years, causing plenty of arguments and misunderstandings.
DH is an ok sequel but doesn’t totally live up to On Night’s Shore: A Novel. There is so much going on here, so many feints & clues that I actually thought the real mystery was much more complex than it turned out to be. A lengthy conversation on cannibalism must mean that there’s some really gory stuff coming up, right? No. The luxurious overindulgence of glass objects in the doctor’s house in a city known for its iron works must mean there’s some connection to his smithy & the bodies that disappear without a trace, right? No. The wild intoxicated parties that happen in a house full of spyholes must mean some seriously fucked-up libertine is behind all of this, right?! No. Oooooo-kay? While all the above details set up an atmosphere ripe for a character like Poe to fall into a literal landscape of his imagination, nothing really pays off plot-wise, but gives readers some thought as to what could have been.
On top of the mystery though is the strained relationship between Augie & Poe, which Silvis captures well. The conflicting motives of compassion & disgust that define their interactions underlines the teenager-parent relationship that the two fall into. I also enjoyed Augie’s determination to remake himself into someone else; his drive reflects the timeless bold youthfulness that we Americans seem to idolize in the arts. From his name change to his attraction to journalism to his wish to run off to Mexico despite the peril all recall writers like Stephen Crane, Jack London & Ernest Hemingway. Silvis may have used these writers as a model but he is able to gesture to them while still keeping Augie’s characterization intact. One flaw though is that Augie is retelling this story as an older man & often interjects laments about how impetuous he was or how he misunderstood something. These statements grow tiresome & seem to be added to patch some of the more threadbare story moments.
A brisk read & entertaining enough for those who want to revisit Silvis’s take on Poe. But this story is more for the completists than anyone coming to the novel without knowing the previous book.