A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe
By Mark Dawidziak
(St. Martin’s Press)

A poignant and realistic picture of Poe through the fascinating black prism of his mysterious death”. --J.W. Ocker, Edgar Award-Winning Author of Poe-Land

It is a moment shrouded in horror. Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7, 1849, at just forty, in a lingering, painful, haunting manner that would not have been out of place in one of his own incredibly influential terror tales.

It is a moment surrounded by mystery. It is, in fact, a double-barreled mystery. What was the cause of Poe’s death, and what happened to him during the missing days before he was found, delirious and “in great distress,” on the streets of Baltimore, wearing ill-fitting clothes that were not his own? Why did he look so disheveled, his hair unkempt, his face unwashed, and his eyes “lusterless and vacant”? Sounds like the description of a character in one of his stories?

Mystery and horror. Poe, who remains one of the most iconic of American writers, died under haunting circumstances that reflect the two literary genres he took to new heights. There is a staggering amount of speculation about those missing days. There are even more theories about the cause of death: rabies, murder, a brain tumor, influenza, carbon monoxide poisoning from illuminating coal gas, binge drinking, diabetes, drug overdose, cholera, mercury poisoning from medicine prescribed during the July 1849 cholera epidemic, dementia caused by normal pressure hydrocephalus, suicide, syphilis, hypoglycemia, epilepsy, apoplexy, enzyme deficiency, meningeal inflammation due to a viral or bacterial infection, and heart disease, to name many but hardly all. With no major biography of Poe having appeared in more than ten years, and no in-depth examination of his death since John Evangelist Walsh’s Midnight Dreary in 1998, A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe looks at Poe’s “horror haunted” life through the prism of his death and the many possible causes.

PRAISE for A Mystery of Mysteries

“A biography that reads like a gripping, well-reported feature story.... [Dawidziak's] informed enthusiasm sweeps the reader irresistibly along.”
–The Washington Post

“Part high-speed tour of Poe’s tumultuous career and part cold-case investigation of his premature and enigmatic end.”
–- Wall Street Journal

“This bio’s mode of presentation is almost as striking as its subject’s life…vibrant.”
–- Washington Independent Review of Books

“Written like a novel with frequent quotes and stirring accounts that paint vivid details…a page-turner from start to finish.”
--- Forbes

“Excellent…Dawidziak’s biography reaches beyond the myth of Poe to reveal the actual man and writer, all while painting a vivid picture of the era in which he lived.”
–- Bookpage (starred)

“In this intrigue-filled offering, Dawidziak achieves the difficult feat of delivering a fresh biography of Edgar Allan Poe…this has revelations to spare.”
–- Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Dawidziak’s thoroughly researched investigation meticulously explores the various theories surrounding Poe’s death while vividly capturing the public’s ongoing fascination with this quintessential tortured soul.”
–- Booklist (starred)

“A brisk, satisfying biography of a literary icon who still fascinates.”
–- Kirkus Reviews

“A Mystery of Mysteries is, itself, a mystery worthy of Poe’s fictional sleuth C. Auguste Dupin.”
–New York Journal of Books

“A Mystery of Mysteries will surely fascinate even the mildly-curious Edgar Allan Poe fan…a poignant analysis.”
–- The Week, “8 must-read books in 2023”

“Even those familiar with Poe's story will find plenty of surprises here, while those who know him only by reputation will get a better-rounded view of a man who was far more than an author of a few scary stories.”
–- The Columbus Dispatch

“Cleverly constructed…With rich detail, engaging prose, Dawidziak offers an intriguing and welcome addition to Poe scholarship.”
–- Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Dawidziak releases [Poe] from this caricature, emphasizing Poe’s work as a literary critic, his fine sense of humor and the vast amount of work he produced.”
–- Akron Beacon Journal

“Certainly, those who enjoy mysteries and literary biographies will be enthralled by Dawidziak’s effort.”
-- Lincoln Journal Star

“Written with painstaking attention to detail and with the collected testimony of over a century of people who knew, admired or have studied Poe, A Mystery Of Mysteries is the kind of book that ought to be read by anyone with even a passing interest in the acclaimed author.”
--Criminal Element

“Instead of a dusty, academic account, Dawidziak presents a real-life thriller.”
--- Shelf Awareness

“Dawidziak re-examines the poet’s puzzling demise . . . But while Dawidziak admits he can’t fill in all those gaps, he can flesh out the man’s life.”
--- New York Daily News

“A worthy update to any Poe or biography collection.”
--- Library Journal

“This book deftly tracks Poe’s death, life, and times—and, in spite of all the adversity he faced, his blazing artistry. And of course, it also probes and proffers all that mystery that has engulfed his tale . . . .A Mystery of Mysteries does a fine job of unearthing the reason for all the curiosity and acclaim.”
--- Mystery Scene

Whether you’re a hardcore Poe fan or someone who only has the loosest idea of him from pop culture and a handful of his most famous works, A Mystery of Mysteries has something new to offer everyone. I particularly recommend it to those who don’t often find themselves reading nonfiction, as the nontraditional structure and the focus on “solving” the mystery of Poe’s death keep it compelling and give it a pace more like fiction.”
-- The Gothic Library

“The content is graspable to the general public, regardless of their level of acquaintance with Poe . . . Dawidziak's monograph holds precious information about Edgar Allan Poe's life and professional career beyond the mainstream stereotypical picture that the general public owns of the American poet. The style is fluid, informal, bordering on familiar, making for a thoroughly enjoyable and fast read . . . A Mystery of Mysteries is unique in its approach, placing the shadow that still surrounds Poe's passing at its center . . . The main strengths of the book lie in both its perspective and its style . . . As to the style, this may be the best part of the biography. The author addresses his readership in a friendly, playful, and semiformal manner, making for both an entertaining and engaging read.”
-- The Edgar Allan Poe Review

“Edgar Allan Poe has brooded over the world’s comprehension as the dark prince of horror tales: a hollow-eyed specter surrounded by candle-tossed shadows, a raven on his writing table, an empty cognac glass at his elbow. In this revelatory biography, Mark Dawidziak honors the Gothic nature of Poe’s work, yet sweeps open the curtains to throw full light upon this masterful poet and shaper of American literature.”
–- Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Flags of Our Fathers and Mark Twain: A Life

“A poignant and realistic picture of Poe through the fascinating black prism of his mysterious death.”
--- J.W. Ocker, Edgar Award-winning author of Poe-Land

“Mark Dawidziak plumbs the mysteries of Poe’s life and career with extraordinary skill and knowledge. Much like Montresor leading Fortunato through the winding catacombs, he leaves the reader surprised and thoroughly ensnared.”
–- Daniel Stashower, Edgar Award-winning author of The Hour of Peril and The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder