Not Quite Dead
John Maclachlan Gray
St. Martin’s, Dec 2007, $24.95
In 1848 on a cargo ship sailing from Liverpool to the United States, Irish stowaway Finn Devlin steals a package containing worthless papers “David Copperfield, Final Four Numbers, by Charles Dickens.” Although the Irishman sees no profit, he plans to visit Dickens’s American publisher to see if they might pay him anyway. Angry with his treatment Devilin kills the publisher.
In 1849 in Baltimore, infamous author, journalist and critic Edger Allen Poe collapses and is rushed to a hospital where he insists he has proof of a mob hit. Allegedly dying, he arranges with his childhood friend Dr. William Chivers to fake his death so that he can elude the Irish mob that wants him silent. Charles Dickens begins an America tour by having as a roommate in a dive, the maniacal Poe, who hides from the Irish mob. Soon all the players on this stage will collide in a final chapter worthy of both writers.
Although well written and very insightful into mid nineteenth century Baltimore and Philadelphia, NOT QUITE DEAD loses some speed by rotating perspective from the first person accounts of harassed Chivers and a third person viewpoint of Devilin’s crossing and lethal time in the States where he seems more like a character from a Corman movie version of a Poe novel. Poe and Dickens play key roles, but are secondary to the prime duet.