E.M. Schorb





Denlinger’s Publishers, 2000
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Historical Mystery, New York 1847

Peter VanBrunt is accused of a murder he didn't do. Who does he think of to help him? Edgar Allan Poe. Why? Poe is an old academy chum who owes him money. The detective in charge agrees to share his investigation with Poe. Why? He admires Poe's detective stories. Sergeant Jonathan Goode tracks Poe down in a beer dive, pulls him out of a stupor, and puts his proposition. Readily acknowledging the obligations of a gentleman, Poe agrees. Do we believe it? Yes, we do.

It is the beginning of an engaging and undisciplined rummage through the slums of 1847 New York City. The mystery centers around an unfortunate family whose descent from the middle class to slum poverty resulted when the man of their family died. The youngest the of family, a corn seller girl, is violently murdered in a park where she is anticipating a marriage proposal from Poe’s friend Peter VanBrunt. Poe and Goode, and friends from the slums where Mary lived, believe they must stop a serial killer. We learn much about the New York City gangs, and the corrupt politics of the time are essential to the story.

The emotional dynamic comes from the relationship between the burly, modest Jonathan Goode and the brilliant, tortured Edgar Allan Poe. It is refreshing to spend time in the company of these honorable gentlemen. Throughout most of the book, we get to know the characters only through what they say and do. It makes the style distractingly spare at times, but there is emotion between the lines. As the characters warm up to each other they bare more of their souls, and we get to know them well. There is one thing that is usually missing from this book, and that is the reader’s you-are-there experience created when an author accurately conveys the physical sensations of his characters.

Author E.M. Schorb has a long resume of published poetry and the awards won for it. When a poet makes the transition to prose, the first question we want answered is, can he write prose, or does the story drown in words? The answer this time is, definitely he can write prose. He leaves the right things unsaid. He is at least as successful writing pencil line sketches as he is doing gold inlay.

PARADISE SQUARE pulled me away from the book I was supposed to be reviewing, which is a measure of its drawing power. It won Grand Prize at the Frankfurt eBook Awards. Bear in mind that one of its competitors in its nominated category was Colleen McCullough’s MORGAN’S RUN, proving that the quality of PARADISE SQUARE is legitimate.

If I were to guess why PARADISE SQUARE was published in e-book form, I would say that some editor perceived a glut in the market of the historical-figure-as-detective genre. (Possibly the author was stubborn about his unorthodox chapter structure, too.) In case there is a glut in the market, this is one detective who should survive.

Oct 2000 Original Version Published on the Independent Reviews Site
Sep 2003 Revised Version

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