Angels, Demons and the Mad Monk:

A review of Poe by J. Lincoln Fenn


Who doesn't love a good ghost story, especially one that evokes the legendary talents of a cognoscenti of the horror genre. By entitling her already acclaimed debut novel Poe, as in Edgar Allan, the pseudonymous J. Lincoln Fenn sets her sights on the Gothic master before we've  read even one sentence of the text. As we come quickly to learn, the hero of her haunting tale, twenty three year old Dmitri Petrov, is also a writer; one that, although he currently spends much of his artistic talent spinning cleverly worded mini bios, otherwise known as obituaries, for the local small-town newspaper, aspires to great authorship. He's one thousand pages into his first novel, a zombie epic starring Grigori Rasputin, with no end in sight. So, It's not a stretch that he would dub the specter who persistently plagues his nightmares after one of his literary heroes.

It wouldn't be giving too much away to explain that as the curtain opens on Dmitri, he's in the act of rising from the dead. He wakes up, one year to the day after the accidental death of his parents, to the pedestrian sounds of an autopsy being performed. He quickly realizes he is lying naked in an icy compartment of the same temperature and dimensions one would commonly associate with the morgue. Luckily he is not the one being routinely dissected. We soon learn more details behind Dmitri's resurrection. Surprise: it involves an assignment to cover a seance at the local haunted house, the Aspinwall mansion, where he somehow blunders into an open well in the basement. In the subsequent surreal panic of drowning, Dmitri has a vision of a waifish figure, the eponymous Poe. So begins our mystery.

Ms. Fenn clearly knows how to manipulate suspense. She slowly reveals Dmitri's story through his own discovery of his parents' mysterious pasts. And thankfully he doesn't have to face his revelations alone. There are a host of supporting characters to either aid or hinder our hero's quest for normalcy. Not the least of whom is Lisa, a receptionist at the nearby nursing home and a part-time punk rock drummer. She fulfills the role of love interest. Her brother, Daniel, has a history of mental illness and demonic violence, and has recently gone missing from the psychiatric facility. There is even a character you might call a perfect angel. But the ingredient that makes this book unique is the shadowy hulk of Rasputin the so-called Mad Monk, arguably the most influential figure in Russia during the reign of the last tsar and tsarina, Nicholas II and Alexandra.

The "Mad Monk", Grigori Rasputin
Loss, healing, resurgence: these are the major themes in Poe, making the Mad Monk a perfect foil for Ms Fenn's tale. After all, his legend speaks of extraordinary healing powers and infallibility to death. He was employed by the Romanovs as a healer to the tsarevitch Alexei, a hemophiliac. The first attempt to assassinate Rasputin by stabbing failed. A later attempt was ultimately successful only after poisoning and repeated shootings during which it is said that he fought back ruthlessly refusing to succumb. Finally, the assassins dumped his body from a bridge into an icy hole on the Malaya-Nevka river, apparently not trusting the thoroughness of their deed.

Although Ms. Fenn's narrative voice is strong, the reader will be able to detect some gender crosstalk, which in such a solid debut can be overlooked. The author, however, does a neat job of tying everything together plausibly with of course some major suspension of disbelief usually accorded to the Gothic horror genre. Indeed the genre itself is in need of some literary revamping, if for no other reason than to restore the respectability it had attained near its inception when progenitors like Shelley, Stoker, Collins, and Edgar Allan Poe were still contributing to their respective oeuvres.

  • Title: Poe
  • Author: J. Lincoln Fenn
  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: 47North (October 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1477848169
  • ISBN-13: 978-1477848166