After the death of his beloved wife, a devastated Poe decides that a change of scenery is in order. He has been invited to Pittsburgh by a wealthy benefactor, Dr. Alfred Brunrichter, a man of intriguing contradiction who on the one hand was fascinated by subjects so macabre that even Poe did not wish to consider, while on the other hand was solicitous of Poe's comfort in every regard and was a local philanthropist and patron of the arts. Augie Dubbins, now a young man in search of adventure, joins Poe in order to keep an eye on his increasingly maudlin friend.
After an exhausting journey across the length of Pennsylvania, their first glimpse of Pittsburgh is not a heartening one. The city, a tight triangle of enterprise squeezed between the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, is gray with factory smoke; its riverbanks clogged with barges, streamboats and freighters, choked with log rafts from the denuded forests farther north. It is at every turn a working-class city, gritty and rough. Moreover, the air of Pittsburgh reeks of death - a cholera epidemic has recently swept through the city, killing hundreds - and Poe and Augie soon learn the real reason behind the city's malaise.
Several young females, all attractive women in their late teens, have disappeared over the past six months. All are of the merchant class - not among the cultural elite but not outright prostitutes either. With Poe almost incapacitated by the lavish attention of their host, Augie finds himself exploring Pittsburgh on his own and begins to investigate the killings.
With great attention to period detail and utilizing all of his skill as a seasoned novelist, Randall Silvis once again crafts a wonderful historical thriller that will leave you gripping the edge of your seats.