2008: 107.  The Beautiful Cigar Girl

“In June of 1842, Edgar Allan Poe took up his pen to broach a delicate subject with an old friend. “Have I offended you with my evil deeds?” he asked, “If so, how?”

The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe and The Invention of Murder, Daniel Stashower

This is a true crime story, that of a famous 18th century murder, the death of Mary Rogers, a young girl who worked in a popular New York City cigar store, and was renowned for her beauty around the city.  The murder, which was never solved, caught the public attention, helped to make fortunes of new the tabloid press and was, at least for a while, the crime of the century.  Moreover, the story caught the attention of Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote one of the first murder mystery stories* based largely on these facts of the case, “The Murder of Marie Roget.”  Poe proposed his own solution to the case, though because new facts came out, he had to quickly re-jigger his story at the eleventh hour.  So, this is a pretty good story - you have the murder, and the facts of Poe’s life, and Poe’s writing the story and tapping into the Zeitgeist, and frantically re-writing, etc.  Pretty good stuff.

Unfortunately, the book was a little disappointing.  The book felt a little disorganized - it kept cutting from the story of the Rogers murder, which took place within a few years (from her death through the end of the investigation), with Poe’s life story (which obviously took place over years and years), such that the book felt disjointed.  Plus, Stashower plays a little dirty with the mystery aspect, in that he doesn’t make it crystal clear in the beginning that the murder was never solved, so I was left somewhat disappointed at the end of the book, because I thought we’d find out what happened, or he’d at least have a theory, or show that Poe’s theory was wrong, or something, and instead the book just ended.  I don’t know - I like true crime, particularly historical true crime, but I’m often disappointed by the end product.  Is this because you can’t really have a satisfying book about a historic crime, given how bad policing was back then, and how long ago things happened? Or that many true crime writers aren’t historians, and I’m spoiled and expect too much? Hmm.  Bears thought.

On a totally unrelated note, I took this book out of the library, and for some reason the D.C. library system, in all their wisdom, has decided that this is a work of fiction, and stores it in the fiction section, labels as such in the catalogue, etc.  It is absolutely, 100% non-fiction.  Typical D.C..


*Technically, the second, as it was a sequel to his story “The Murder in the Rue Morgue.”


Date/Place Completed: 8/10/08; D.C.

Categories: Non-Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017