#57 Crapometer

Imp: Being the Lost Journal of Rufus Hiram Griswold
In the Matter of the Death of Edgar Allan Poe.

Genre: Crime (Gothic-Noir)

(A) What if one of the greatest mysteries in American literary history was finally solved?

The last days of Edgar Allan Poe are shrouded in the unknown. The poverty stricken poet leaves Richmond, where he has just announced his engagement to a wealthy widow.

He boards a steamer on September 27, 1849 bound for New York. Poe never arrives. Missing for a week, the poet is discovered delirious and disheveled in the gutters of Baltimore. Feverish, and incoherent he dies in the predawn hours of Oct. 7th, 1849. His last utterances “Reynolds! Reynolds!” and a pathetic “Lord save my poor soul.”

Now, newly discovered, the lost journals of Poe's universally despised literary executor, Rufus Hiram Griswold, reveal the violence, desperation, and horror of that fatal week. Poe and his fierce literary rival, Griswold, are thrown together by the visions of an ether-sniffing poetess, and spiritualist, Mrs. Helen Whitman, herself once the object of Poe's affections (B) A Gothic-Noir tale unfolds in an investigation that leads
through all the superstition, and brutishness of ante-bellum American society.

You break the action to describe it. Either put (B) up with (A) or leave it out.

On a fool's errand Griswold meets the Richmond boat in Baltimore. Poe is carried down the gangway shrouded in canvass and apparently dead, stabbed during a drunken confrontation in the boat's gentleman's cabin.

Griswold's mission to fulfill Mrs. Whitman's plea and save the man's soul is over before it has begun. But there, on the rainy wharf, Griswold discovers, with the help of a freedman known as Jupiter, that Poe is not dead, but in a trance. The two revive Poe and a frightening journey begins.

Poe sees his child bride, Virginia, dead two years past, passing in the crowded street. She looks back at him and though he struggles to follow her, she disappears into the mob. Is the vision true, or merely a trick of Poe's delirium? Griswold is skeptical, but Jupiter has seen the White Bride too, and a fateful search begins, with the specter of the nefarious mesmerist, Dr. Rennelle Fox always haunting their steps.

(D) Leading the trio through warrens of child-prostitution, opium dens, and the slave pens of America's then second largest city, Griswold serves as an unwilling Watson, recording the dire events that lead each of the men to their own destinies. Jupiter seeks to free his wife and child from the grasp of the notorious Beelz Gang, who kidnap emancipated slaves in the North and re-sell them in the South. Griswold, a former Baptist minister, struggles to keep his faith in God, and his own sanity, as the trail leads deeper into places where reality, and rational thought is challenged by the malevolence of the era.

Poe searches for Virginia, racked by guilt. Married to Sissy when she was but thirteen-years old, Eddy had watched her dying of consumption, and seeking to save her, made a sinful bargain. Poe had allowed Dr. Fox to place Virginia in a trance that would stay death's touch, only to discover his bride's body stolen from her crypt. Now, two years later, he has seen her again, and must save her from the netherworld -neither dead, nor alive.

But where is Virginia, and where is Fox? (C) The quest leads the unlikely trio -a dissolute drunk, a prim man of the cloth, and a despised former slave into a story that parallels many of Poe's darkest tales and poems. Imp of the Perverse, The Fall of the House of Usher, Premature Burial, Ligea, Ullalume, Bon Bon, even The Gold Bug, all the stories become clues and guide the men in the search. Body snatching, dissection, perversion, and the pseudo-sciences of the age all the signs lead to Baltimore's old Washington Hospital where the final confrontation takes place.

Paragraphs C and D say pretty much the same thing. Either combine them or take one out. By putting action between them, your synopsis loses flow.

Poe has his friends bury him in the public cemetery adjacent to the hospital, hoping that Fox's men will exhume his corpse and unknowingly deliver it to Fox's lair. The ruse works but only barely, as the grave robbers arrive late to do their unholy deed.

Face to face Dr. Fox at last, the men battle for their souls. Is Fox a villain, or the devil himself? Jupiter manages to kill Fox's henchmen and save his family. Griswold protects Virginia while Poe struggles with Fox. The mesmerist wounds him repeatedly, but Poe seems unaffected and using a sword concealed in his Malachite cane, kills Fox.

Releasing Virginia from her hypnotic trance, Poe and his friends look on as death, two years delayed, destroys the young woman in an orgy of pent-up decay. Poe, expecting such a result, weeps and thanks God for this release of her soul. Then Jupiter, keeping a bargain he had made with Poe when they met on the Richmond to Baltimore steamer, administers a drug (scopolamine) to Poe, freeing the poet from the trance he has been in the entire time. Griswold is horrified. The truth is now revealed.

Poe was indeed dead that first day when Griswold met his canvass-shrouded arrival on the wharf. Maintained by Jupiter's knowledge of arcane Haitian rites, Poe had agreed to help the freedman find his family and Jupiter had delayed Poe's final demise. Now as his postponed fate catches up to him in degrees, Poe slips into an incurable delirium. But, before he is completely incoherent, he makes Griswold promise to tell this disturbing tale.

Griswold thus writes this journal of Poe's final days. Still, fearing society's condemnation will destroy Poe's legacy, he hides the manuscript and instead writes the public obituary for Poe, denouncing the writer as a drunk womanizer and opium addict, hoping that others will be
distracted by that slander, deflected from Poe's greatest sin, his unholy bargain with Dr. Rennelle Fox.

Later biographers denounce Griswold as a character assassin, but never do stumble upon the truth, and never realize that Poe calls out in his final agonies, not Reynolds!” but rather, “Renard! Reid!” French for Fox

Griswold thus sacrifices his own reputation and saves Poe from posterity's condemnation.

It needs some pruning and re organizing but otherwise this is good.
I’d read it.


Kelly said...

I'd like to read this, too. Of all the crapometer thus far, this is the first synopsis I've read all the way through. But then, Poe fascinates me.

Jude Hardin said...

This is my favorite so far. Although I'm not a fan of historical fiction, this story sounds so compelling that I wouldn't be able to resist giving it a read. With the right director, it would likely make a great film as well.

It is a better synopsis than mine, but I can't help notice that it's a mystery with elements of horror, much as my story is.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Wow, I'd read this. And I don't generally read in this genre. I am a romance writer. I have a Lit degree. This is so not me. And yet it's compelling! This has to be my favorite so far. There have been others I liked, but none enough to comment.

Rhonda Helms said...

I'd read this, as well. Interesting take on the topic. I like unique ideas like this.

Steph said...

Yup--I'd want to read this too!

Moi said...

I'd love to read it too. Hardcover even. Good luck with selling it.

Sonarbabe said...

This was good. Like Miss Snark said, it needs a little reorganizing, but it truly captured my interest. I'm extremely fussy about what I read, but I'd pick this one up.