I won a copy, or rather a download, of this audio e-book from Booklikes in exchange for my brutally honest opinion. I’ve been listening to this over the course of the past four months, so you’ll have to forgive me if some parts don’t make sense, despite my pages of notes.
Forever takes at its premise the mysterious death of Edgar Allan Poe, and investigates it as a murder. The story starts with a prologue on October 3, 1849, four days before Poe’s death. Poe takes a train to Balltimore, and is aware that he is being followed. As he is walking from the station, he is knocked out. He wakes up on a bench in front of a tavern, drenched in alcohol and in different clothes and his pistol missing, making it look like a robbery. He has a knot on his head and hallucinates, thinking he sees people with cat heads.
Fast forward to 1865. The body of our story is narrated by the main character, Patrick O’Malley, a Civil War veteran and now a detective, who has rented the cottage in the Bronx where Poe lived with his wife Virginia. O’Malley is a big Poe fan – you might say he’s obsessed – and he knew him a little when he was alive. O’Malley finds a note in the bed (did they really have the same mattress after 16 years? Eww.) referring to a girl in a tobacconist’s shop who needs to be avenged. O’Malley realizes she is Mary Cecelia Rogers, a.k.a. Marie Rogêt of Poe’s short story. O’Malley begins investigating the circumstances surrounding Poe’s death, starting with the doctor who attended Poe until he died. The doctor confirms that Poe was not drunk, which tallies with the fact that Poe had given up drinking, but he was confused and didn’t know where he was right before he died.
O’Malley investigates a series of unlikely suspects, including poets Longfellow and William Ross Wallace, and finds a strange ally in New Jersey crime boss Walter Mackenzie, leader of the Plug Uglies. Mrs. Anderson, wife of Tom Anderson, the owner of the tobacco shop where Mary worked, had contacted Mackenzie twice about getting Mary an abortion. If you say so, Musgrave; those two don’t seem like they would have exactly moved in the same social circles. O’Malley visits most of the suspects several times each, using the Columbo method of always coming up with “just one more thing,” but the pretenses are weak here – the follow up questions are usually ones he should have come up with at the time.
O’Malley visits Tom Anderson, now widowed, who is a millionaire and employs armed guards. He claims Poe killed Mary because she haunts him and her ghosts tells him so.
O’Malley is a thirty-five-year-old virgin, and this detail will bizarrely be important in helping him get in touch with his feminine side and solve the murder at the end. Yeah, whatever. He is friends with a woman who is improbably named Rebecca Charming, who is a college-educated daughter of a senator who became a prostitute, and now runs a brothel. She and O’Malley are just friends; she’s a sort of confidential informant, and he reads her poetry. He has an irrational fear of women, and of becoming powerless through sex.
Next O’Malley learns through Mackenzie that a hit has been put out on him. O’Malley has a bad habit of running out of ideas and says several times, this is my last chance to solve the mystery of Poe’s death, or, I only need one more clue. He makes another round of his suspect list; James Fennimore Cooper gets dragged in this time around.
O’Malley finally figures out, or more like guesses, who the killer is, and sets not one but two traps, both of which don’t work out in his favor. The second time, O’Malley just decided to sit in house and wait for the killer to come to him. After three days of this, a stranger comes to the front door as a decoy, while the real killer has already slipped in another way, and knocks him unconscious. He wakes up in a torture chamber on a device that sounds like the rack. The killer appears with Becky, whom he has kidnapped and dosed with laughing gas. He puts her in an Iron Maiden, but Mackenzie and his men arrive and save them just in the nick of time. Reynolds, of course, gets away.
The next-to-last chapter begins with O’Malley and Becky having breakfast together at his cottage the next morning. O’Malley is discussing the case with her again, again employing the old standby, I only need one more clue. . . She tells him again that he needs to tap into his feminine side (is she ahead of her time, or what?) in order to solve the case, and in order to do that he needs to be really relaxed, and that can only happen post-coitus. Terrific logic, right? Sexual frustration = diminished detective’s intuition. Which leads to the most bizarre introduction to a sex scene that I’ve ever read. I don’t have a lot of reading experience in that area, but I still know this is absurd. “Becky [already seated on O’Malley’s lap] reached over to her silk sleeve and brought it down over her heart. There it was, staring me right in the face. It was a pleasantly rotund mound of pinkish flesh with a lump of paradise at its center. ‘Now, just imagine this is a pancake, Patrick [which they just finished eating]. I put a cherry on the top for you to enjoy. Please, take your pleasure. We can proceed from there.’” I mean, LOL, right? Who doesn’t go crazy over pleasantly rotund mounds? And then for some reason O’Malley starts seeing war scenes in his head, followed by thinking again about how he’s resisted Becky’s feminine charms for four years, but then they’re having sex soon enough. Thankfully, there’s not much more graphic language. But, sure enough, O’Malley has a dream, and wakes up, knowing who arranged for Poe to be killed. Which he turns out to be right about, but still doesn’t make sense.
I might have rated this a little higher in print form, but just listening to it was torture. The narrator has an Irish accent, which makes sense for O’Malley, but every character sounds so much alike, I sometimes forgot who was talking. Even Becky’s voice is sometimes hard to distinguish; the narrator does this breathy falsetto voice like men often do when they’re trying to sound like women. But the worst was Reynolds’ southern accent. The prose is really bad in parts, and unnatural and stiff in others. It gets overly technical for a while when O’Malley is talking about his guns. I thought the premise of a mystery of Poe’s “murder” sounded great – too bad I didn’t read Randee’s review first. Painful narration plus bad detective plus confusing solution plus a man eating cats to keep the ghosties away plus a diary detailing the crimes being destroyed by a lightning strike equals train wreck. I am sorry to say that I cannot recommend this book, and I wish I’d passed on requesting it.