Book Review: The Beautiful Cigar Girl

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

Daniel Stashower

Berkley Trade

400 pages

We all know the old adage Sex Sells.  This was embodied by Mary Rogers, a young girl in 1840s New York who worked at a cigar store in an effort to lure men into the shop.  Somewhat innocent, Mary had grown up in a more comfortable home, but once her father died, she and her mother lost their social status and they were forced to move to New York, where Mary’s mother opened a boardinghouse.  Eventually, Mary was able to quit her job as the “cigar girl”, but the image followed her.

Then, one morning, everything changes.  Mary tells her fiance she is going to visit an aunt, but she never returns.  Only a few days later, her dead body is found and it is apparent that she has been brutally murdered.  The mystery surrounding Mary’s death intrigues the whole city, and Edgar Allan Poe is sucked into its vortex.

Crime fiction is just making its debut, with the likes of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens cashing in on the popularity.  Poe isn’t having the best of luck in his literary endeavors, but he was then inspired to create his fictional detective C Auguste Dupin, who appeared in Poe’s story The Mystery of Marie Roget, which was based on the murder of Mary Rogers.

The Beautiful Cigar Girl was also part biography of Poe.  Although I have read quite a bit of Poe throughout the years, and knew the basics surrounding his tragic, untimely death, I really didn’t know much about him.  And let’s be honest–his life is one of great misery and drama.  Not a fun life to lead but certainly an interesting one to read about.

One issue I did have with the book is that there was not really any resolution.  The death of Mary Rogers has never been conclusively “solved”.  Although there are many theories as to who or what killed her, we don’t know what really happened.  I usually don’t mind ambiguous endings but in this type of situation, I want to know who the guilty party is!

Despite my gripe, The Beautiful Cigar Girl was an intriguing look at life in New York in the mid 19th century, not to mention a good resource on the invention of detective fiction.

Other Reviews:

None that I could find.

I purchased this book from Half Price Books.


3 Responses

  1. This book looks fantastic! I love this sort of thing, where different stories and lives intersect. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  2. Thanks for the great review. I have heard about this book and now I think I shall certainly read it.

  3. I have never heard of this one – at least not that I can remember. Like you, I like a little bit of closure on murder cases like this so I can feel your frustration there. 🙂

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