Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Review: "The Last Dickens"

Matthew Pearl's third literary thriller is The Last Dickens, in which Pearl delves into the tangled web of the 19th-century publishing industry through the lens of Charles Dickens' final, unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The hunt for the final six installments of Drood leads Dickens' American publisher James Osgood on a wild transatlantic manuscript chase that takes him from the wharves of Boston to the opium dens of London to the cellars beneath the Harvard Medical College, and finds him chased by mysterious swarthy stalkers, unscrupulous representatives of rival publishing houses, and his own ambitious desire to protect his business and see Drood through to completion, if possible.

Perhaps it's because I loved The Dante Club so much, but this book didn't have quite the same oomph for me as Pearl's previous two did. There were some small errors, and I found the break-neck series of plot-twists and red-herring revelations in the final chapters just a bit much. The sections in which Dickens' American tour are recounted, and those which feature Dickens' son Frank in the Indian police force, were fascinating, but they didn't cohere well with the main storyline.

That said, Pearl's depiction of the American tour and the publishing industry in general are excellent, and they certainly make the book worth reading. The mystery portion may be a slightly over the top, but then again that was the Victorian way. All told, another success for Pearl, and one which will certainly spur renewed interest in Dickens' final project.

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