Book 399: An Unpardonable Crime

This story intriguingly integrates the life of a young Edgar Allan Poe into a larger story. Poe, in fact, is a rather marginal figure in the story, only really interesting because of who he is, and I kind of like that. It illustrates the way in which ordinary people can turn out to be extraordinary, given half a chance.

The mystery is involved and a bit complex, and there’s a fair dash of conspiracy and some macabre humor. While it is set in 19th century England, Taylor doesn’t really do a very good job of adding in historical flavor. This is kind of disappointing, since I think that the whole point of reading historical novels is being able to get a taste of what life was like then.

There’s an obligatory scene at a cold country house, ice skating on a pond, some riding around in carriages, and antiquated language, but I didn’t feel like I was immersed in the world of 19th century England. I felt like I was immersed in the story of the character, which was interesting, don’t get me wrong, but I kept wanting more, turning the page and wishing that things were more vivid and fleshed out.

The story is told in the form of a document written up largely after the fact, with an afterward discussing the provenance of the story, ostensibly written by another character. I couldn’t help but wonder about the things that the narrator elided or modified slightly to make himself look better, and I think it might be kind of neat to read the same story from another point of view, but that might just be the nerd in me coming out.

I also couldn’t help but note that none of the characters were very deep. We didn’t get much of a background with anyone, and while the narrator’s story seethed with resentment and comments made in hindsight, I didn’t feel like many of the characters had dimensions and personalities and interesting traits which would have made me engage with them. The most interesting character is a mute maid, who turns out to be a pretty minor figure in the tale, although she does have a few surprises up her sleeves.


An Unpardonable Crime, by Andrew Taylor. Published 2004, 496 pages. Fiction.