"An Unpardonable Crime"
(reviewed by Jenny Dressel APR 23, 2004)
“We owe respect to the living, Voltaire tells us in his Premier Lettre sur Oedipe, but to the dead we owe only truth. The truth is that there are days when the world changes, and a man does not notice because his mind is on his own affairs…”
This begins Andrew Taylor’s new novel, An Unpardonable Crime, which is told by a young man, Thomas Shield, during the school year, 1819-1820. Mr. Shield has just procured a position as a tutor at the prestigious Stoke-Newington school, which lies outside of London. He obtains this employment despite a dubious past, which includes being a soldier and spending time in an insane asylum. Shield got the job based on his Aunt Reynold’s reference.
“Stoke Newington was a pretty place, despite its proximity to London…The youngest boy in the school was four, the oldest nineteen…The sons of richer and more ambitious parents were prepared for entry at the public schools. Most however, received all the learning they required at Mr. Bransby’s…”
Mr. Shield hadn’t been at the school for two weeks when he was told by the Reverend Bransby, the proprietor of the school, that Aunt Reynolds had died suddenly. As he was the woman’s only living relative, he inherited all her possessions, and needed to settle her affairs.
“Early in October, I applied to Bransby for leave to go to Town…He made no difficulty upon my request…
“Upon one condition, however,” he went on. “I should like you to go on Tuesday… when you travel up to Town, you will take the boy Allan with you and leave him at his parents’ house in Southhampton-row…Once you have left him at his father’s house, you may discharge your own business. But afterwards, I wish you to call at a house in Russell-square so that you may convey a new pupil to the school…His name is Frant…”
So, Thomas takes the young Edgar Allan [Poe] to his foster parents’ house, and picks up Charlie Frant, at his home to transfer back to the school. I think I can say here that the boys were the same age and looked strikingly familiar. This pivotal action lands Shield in the middle of murders, intrigue, mysterious persons, and all the gothic drama a reader could ask for.
Taylor’s book is an engaging read and I enjoyed it for the most part. Hyperion Books, the publisher, compared it to The Alienist and The of the Fingerpost. I think that description is right on. If you enjoyed either of those novels, this one is for you.
Andrew Taylor, himself, says, “Poe haunts the novel, though he is not the narrator. Without realizing it, he links the characters and knits together the elements of their lives. Perceptive readers will also find echoes of the stories and poems he wrote in later life…” This is where Taylor’s genius plays itself out, I think. I haven’t read Poe in at least fifteen years, but I saw nuances and clues to Poe’s writing and stories throughout the book. My intention is to pull down my worn copy of Poe, and re-read it, so that I can then find more clues, because I know I must have missed a bunch.
If there is one drawback to the novel, I did find the protagonist, Shield, always being in the right place at the right time, a bit contrived. Andrew Taylor’s London in the early 1800’s seems like a small village instead of the bustling city history tells us it was. But I’ll give him that, if there are as many references to Poe’s work in this novel as I think there are.
My suggestion before reading this novel would be to read Poe’s short stories first. While Taylor’s novel is engaging as a stand-alone gothic mystery, I think it would be lots more fun to read as and say “Aha” throughout. This novel is a must for book clubs- the conversation would be rampant, especially if there are Poe fans in the group, and let’s face it, who isn’t a fan of Edgar Allan Poe?
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Raven on the Water (1991)
- The Barred Window (1993)
- An Unpardonable Crime (2003 titled The American Boy; released in US March 2004)
- A Stain on the Silence (May 2006 in UK)
- Bleeding Heart Square (May 2008 in UK; March 2009 in US)
- The Anatomy of Ghosts (January 2011)
The William Dougal Series - a detective who occasionally commits murders as well as solves them
- Caroline Minuscule (1982)
- Waiting for the End of the World (1984)
- Our Fathers' Lies (1985)
- An Old School Tie (1986)
- Freelance Death (1987)
- Blood Relation (1990)
- The Sleeping Policeman (1992)
- Odd Man Out (1993)
The Eric Blaines Triology
Lydmouth Series (set in around a fictional town on the Anglo-Welsh border in the years after WWII)
- An Air that Kills (1994)
- The Mortal Sickness (1995)
- The Lover of the Grave (1997)
- The Suffocating Night (1998)
- Where Roses Fade (2000)
- Death's Own Door (2001
- Call the Dying (September 2004)
The Roth Trilogy
*Requiem for an Angel (2002 -- ominbus edition of all three Roth books)
Young Adult Thrillers:
- Hairline Cracks (1988)
- Snapshot (1989)
- Double Exposure (1990)
- Negative Image (1992)
- The Invader (1994)
- Private Nose (1989)
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- Home Page for Andrew Taylor
- Lydmouth series by Andrew Taylor
- The official website for An Unpardonable Crime
- Rebecca's Reads review of An Unpardonable Crime
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About the Author:
Andrew Taylor grew up in the Fen country of East Anglia and was educated at Cambridge University and University College London. He has worked as a boatbuilder, wages clerk, teacher, librarian, labourer and freelance publisher's editor and has been a full-time writer since 1981.
He is the award-winning author of a number of novels, including a crime series, a psychological thriller, and the groundbreaking Roth Trilogy. Taylor is the only author to receive the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award twice, the first time for The Office of The Dead, the third novel in the Roth Trilogy, and the second time for An Unpardonable Crime. His first novel won the John Creasey Award, and he has also been shortlisted for the Gold Dagger and the Edgar.
He and his wife live with their children in the Forest of Dean on the border of England and Wales.