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Not Quite Dead    by John MacLachlan Gray order for
Not Quite Dead
by John MacLachlan Gray
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

John MacLachlan Gray has had a good deal of fun imagining a cast of characters around the meeting of Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe. Doctors, Irish immigrants, widows, publishers, policemen (new for the time), mobsters and politicians all have roles, and through them we learn much about society and politics in the year 1849.

Since the circumstances under which Poe died are quite mysterious, Gray decides he really did not die, but instead persuaded his old friend, Dr. Chivers, to help him stage the death. Our story is told by the doctor, who has nourished a lifelong dislike for his old friend, and who now, because of this misdeed, fears for his career. At the same time, there is a certain immigrant from Ireland, Finn Devlin, whose story intersects with Chivers, Poe and Dickens. The meeting of Poe and Dickens as portrayed in the story is pretty anticlimactic (and bears no resemblance to their actual meeting).

Although Gray has kept his plotlines pretty taut, the change from Chivers' first-person account to the third-person unfolding of Devlin's story can be a bit disconcerting. Dr. Chivers is a wonderful character, by turns pompous, rational, dissembling and lovesick. And there are others, like Inspector Shadduck, who are just as interesting. But in the end, despite the great humor and even though the Author's Note explains that Poe and Dickens are 'actors in a drama of my own imagining,' to this reader something seems amiss. For historical fiction we know too much for a suspension of disbelief to work, and for a period drama the characters are just too famous.

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