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The Mask of Red Death by Harold Schechter
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The Mask of Red Death

by Harold Schechter

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345448413, Hardcover)

With a cannibalistic mountain man menacing New York City in 1845, who better to curb the butcher's appetites--permanently--than the one man perhaps best prepared to understand his macabre nature: Edgar Allan Poe? That's right, the same impecunious poet and editor who was responsible for "The Raven," and has appeared in two previous historical thrillers by Harold Schechter (1999's Nevermore and 2001's The Hum Bug), returns in The Mask of Red Death to stop a serial slayer known for first scalping his victims, then (yikes!) consuming their warm livers. With Manhattanites in a vengeful frenzy, ready to string up just about anyone conceivably to blame for these atrocities (even an indolent Crow Indian chief living among showman P.T. Barnum's stock of human attractions), it falls to Poe--who is connected to at least two of the victims--to find and foil the fiend.

Fortunately, this faint-hearted versifier has the help of renowned western scout Christopher "Kit" Carson, who's come east with his mute, 5-year-old son on the trail of a red-headed renegade known as "Liver-Eating" Johnson--the killer of Carson's Arapaho wife. Is Johnson to blame for all of Gotham's recent barbarity? Or is there another hand behind the destruction not only of young girls, but of a wealthy albino who'd asked Poe to authenticate a document of historical and political import, and an author who had taken umbrage at Poe's lampooning of his work? Schechter, known for his true-crime books as well as his mysteries, is unsparing in his explications of violence. Yet it's in the service of re-creating pre-Civil War New York's frequently dangerous conditions, and ensuring that no plot turn is less than perilous. Poe shows here both a brilliant mind (he seems to have committed an entire thesaurus to memory) and a beleaguered spirit (he must do without physical intimacy from his "ethereal" but sickly wife, who also happens to be his young cousin, and he struggles against his weakness for alcohol). The combination makes him a truly singular sleuth, whether he is facing thugs determined to wreck Barnum's American Museum, or trading trivialities with a ventriloquist who proves to be no dummy. If only Carson were so well developed; instead, he comes off in Red Death as a B-movie extra, sidling onto the scene whenever an altercation is in the offing. Western history buffs will recognize the liberties Schechter has taken with facts surrounding Carson and Johnson, but that shouldn't spoil their appreciation of the raucous drama and rich wit to be found in these pages. --J. Kingston Pierce

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:22 -0400)

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"It is the sweltering summer of 1845, and the thriving metropolis has fallen victim to a creature of the most inhuman depravity. Found days apart, two girls have been brutally murdered, their throats slashed, viciously scalped, and - most shocking of all - missing their livers. Edgar Allan Poe, despite what the tenor of his own tales of terror might suggest about his constitution, is just as shaken and revolted by these horrendous crimes as the panic-stricken public. Suspicion of the scalper's identity immediately swirls around the most famous "redskin" in New York, Chief Wolf Bear, one of the human attractions at P.T. Barnum's American Museum. Certain that Chief Wolf Bear is innocent, Poe has deduced that the city is concealing a cannibal somewhere in its teeming masses, one with an ever-growing appetite for human prey." "Before he can investigate his theory further, Poe stumbles onto the scene of a third gruesome murder. Poe recently met William Wyatt when he agreed to look at a document for Wyatt to determine the authenticity of the purportedly famous handwriting on it. Now Poe finds Wyatt in a pool of blood, his scalp removed. How, Poe muses, are Wyatt and his document connected to the two slain girls?" "As frenzied emotions over the murders reach a fevered pitch, Kit Carson makes an appearance. The famous scout has been tracking the "Liver Eater" since the man killed his wife months ago. Together, Carson and Poe make an odd sleuthing team, but their combined wits are formidable. The trail they uncover reveals a dark secret more powerful than anything they could have imagined - one that may reach the upper echelons of politics and privilege."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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