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by Andrew Taylor
Flamingo, July 2003
485 pages
17.99 GBP
ISBN: 000710961X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Edgar Allan, not yet using Poe, his father's name, is ten years old and the American Boy of Andrew Taylor's crime novel set in 1819. He is at Mr Bransby's Manor House School in leafy Stoke Newington, where his best friend is fellow pupil Charles Frant. Though the historical Poe did indeed pass some of his boyhood years in England and at this very school, this is not a fictionalized biography, but a complex and absorbing Gothic romance, if one always rooted in the real world. The boys' friendship is the link that draws schoolmaster Thomas Shield, the narrator, into the complicated and murky connections between their two families, a course that will lead to the loss of his career, and to prospective heartbreak and mortal peril.

Though no braver than the reader and perhaps not an absolutely reliable narrator, Shield is dogged in his pursuit of the truth and considerably more honest than many of those he meets. He is also a brilliantly conceived representative of his time and place - almost friendless, almost penniless, slightly unstable, a non-heroic survivor of the Battle of Waterloo, he must make his way in Regency England as best he can.

Taylor is a most chameleon-like writer of historical fiction. Stretched out on a sprig of the past, he takes on the colour of the period to the point where the modern age all but disappears, without ever stooping to that 'Lawks-a-mercy, me fine gel' nonsense of lesser historical novelists. It is a talent he has displayed before in his Lydmouth series, set in dreary post-war austerity England, which has the enormous virtue of appearing to have been written in the time it is set. So, at least superficially, does THE AMERICAN BOY, though it is, of course, a contemporary novel and the product of a modern sensibility. In order to maintain the historical illusion, however, Taylor must proceed at a more leisurely pace than may please more impatient readers, though there is nothing here that is either unnecessary or self-indulgent.

THE AMERICAN BOY is less a departure from Taylor's earlier work than might immediately appear. At heart a romance, it is also, like the Lydmouth series and the Roth trilogy, a novel of obsession, of sexual secrets that must be suppressed at any cost, and of profound moral corruption. Taylor creates a wholly engrossing world from which the reader emerges only reluctantly, not because it is so pleasant, but because it is so thoroughly interesting. It is very hard to over-praise this novel.

If you can't wait until March 2004, when Hyperion will release the book in the US, you can order it right now from either the UK or Canada.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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