It is a treasured Charm City tradition. Every year on Edgar Allan Poeâ€™s birthday a figure wrapped in a dark cloak visits the renowned authorâ€™s Baltimore gravesite and leaves behind three roses and half a bottle of cognac. No Baltimorean worth his or her salt would ever dream of trying to determine the true identity of the “Poe Toaster,” thereby possibly destroying a cherished ritual. Thatâ€™s why Tess Monaghan refuses to help the odd, piglike man who wants to hire her to unmask the Visitor, who the Porcine One claims has deceived and cheated him.
If nothing else, the rejected clientâ€™s story has whetted Tessâ€™s curiosityâ€”and so the following evening she and her enthusiastic boyfriend, Crow, are braving the winter chill and the graveyard dark to observe the strange, beloved rite from a respectful distance. But on this particular January 19, two caped figures approach Poeâ€™s resting place. One leaves the tribute and escapes into the night. The other dies there, felled by an assassinâ€™s bullet.
Tess sees nothing that the other witnesses didnâ€™t see. She isnâ€™t working for anyone at the momentâ€”and the homicide detective who caught this particular “red ball” is an old and dangerous nemesisâ€”so it might be worth her while to avoid this case like the plague. But someone else wants Tess involved in the worst way. A stranger is surreptitiously leaving her roses and cognac and bizarre, cryptic cluesâ€”someone who knows Tessâ€™s habits, someone who knows who she knows and where she lives. And suddenly home is a safe haven no longer.
Like it or not, Tess Monaghan is now a prime player in the murderous drama. And as the body count rises even higher, she uncovers links in a chain of greed, lies, false histories, and deadly acquisitiveness, a dangerously twisted mystery worthy of Poe himself.
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