Since 2009 marks the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth, a slew of books have been released to honor this highly influential author. As befits the creator of the detective fiction genre, two of the books are presented by the Mystery Writers of America, including an impressive anthology of Poe’s original tales titled In the Shadow of the Master.
Edited by best-selling author Michael Connelly, this handsomely designed hardback contains all of Poe’s most critically acclaimed stories and writings, including “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and the epic poem “The Raven.” Paired with each of these works are essays by well-known authors such as Jeffery Deaver, Sue Grafton, Nelson DeMille, and many others. As an example of one of these essays, in “The Genius of the Tell-Tale Heart” Stephen King states why “The Tell-Tale Heart” is one of the few works of fiction to ever scare him, and relates how the story’s genius results from how “Poe foresaw the darkness of generations far beyond his own.”
I can’t give enough praise to this anthology. Harry Clarke’s classically macabre illustrations from an early 20th century edition of Poe’s stories have been painstakingly reproduced for this book. When combined with the high-quality printing and binding, and the insightful essays from today’s best horror and mystery writers, the result is a book to both introduce a new generation to Poe, and a book to keep for generations to come.
The second book released under the Mystery Writers of America name is On a Raven’s Wing: New Tales in Honor of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Stuart M. Kaminsky. This collection of stories inspired by Poe’s original writings includes works by Mary Higgins Clark, Thomas H. Cook, James W. Hall, and many others. Overall, the stories succeed as they should and are very enjoyable, although few approach the brilliance of Poe’s original stories (which is probably an unfair standard to judge any book by). The best story in the collection is “Emily’s Time” by mystery Grand Master Dorothy Salisbury Davis. This insightful tale focuses on the professor, a self-educated man who drifts through life living off the wealth inherited from his actress mother. Both disturbing and hopeful, part slice of life and part horror, this story will rank among the year’s best short stories of any genre.
The final anthology released in recent weeks to honor Poe’s birth is Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Ellen Datlow. Datlow brings in a top-notch group of authors to explore Poe’s works, including Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Lucius Shepard, and M. Rickert. As with On a Raven’s Wing, this anthology takes a loose definition of what exactly “inspired by Poe” means, such that readers may not always see the connection with a particular Poe story. However, all of the stories are greatly entertaining, which is a rare thing to say about any anthology, and of the two original anthologies, Datlow’s better captures the essential sense of weirdness found in Poe’s best works. My favorite stories from Datlow’s book are Delia Sherman’s gothic romance “The Red Piano,” and Melanie Tem’s “The Pickers,” a strange but fun exploration of Poe’s poem “The Raven.”
So there you are–multiple ways for story lovers to celebrate Poe’s birth by digging into both his own works, and the endless ways he inspired the writers who follow in his footsteps. So Happy 200th Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe. You may have had a crappy life, but your influence lives on in ways you could never have foreseen.
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