The American Boy by Andrew Taylor

‘The American Boy’ is a complex saga, mixing history and fiction and reflecting the atmosphere that existed in England at the time (1819-1820). The young Edgar Allen (Poe) is the American boy and while not a central figure, he appears at the edges of the story and is essential to its development.

The story is narrated by Thomas Shield. He is broke, has no family and no references but manages to obtain a job as a junior Usher at a private school outside London. Shield sees and immediately falls in love with the mother (Sophie Frant) of one of his students (Charlie Frant).

Charlie is close friends with another student – Edgar Allen, and it is in escorting the two boys to and from London that Shield gets involved with Charlie’s family. Henry Frant (Charlie’s father) is a partner at the Wavenhoe bank. After George Wavenhoe (Sophie’s uncle) dies, it is not long before the bank fails. Frant’s cousin Stephen Carswall has managed to protect himself from exposure. But, Frant is ruined and shortly after is murdered. Sophie and Charlie are completely dependent on Carswall and now live with him and his illegitimate daughter Flora.

When doubt is raised about Frant’s death (the face was battered and identity was uncertain) Carwsall involves Shield to help find out what is going on.

All through the story, Shield is in love with Sophie and lusting after Flora even though his lower class makes them unobtainable.

Eventually issues come to a head. The identity of the dead man is revealed, another murder occurs and people end up wrongly accused of fictitious crimes.


I enjoyed this story and was fully absorbed in it without worrying about what was fact and what was fiction. It seemed to accurately reflect England at the time with its class consciousness and snobbery.

There were quite a few side stories that started and didn’t really go anywhere which I found a bit disappointing. The story includes the character Noak. I’m not sure if this is the same Noak who appears in ‘The Scent of Death’.


Book Published 2003


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