Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens is one of a number of books about Charles Dickens' last, albeit unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. But what sets this novel apart from its compatriots is Pearl's ability to build suspense and extrapolate from historical events to create a palpable underbelly of the publishing world.
"A man stretched out on a crusty, ragged couch granted them admission into a corridor, after which they ascended a narrow stairs where every board groaned at their steps; perhaps out of despair, perhaps to warn the inhabitants." (Page 199 of hardcover)
Charles Dickens' final, incomplete novel--he only completed six installments--caused a great deal of controversy as to whether the author indeed had not finished the manuscript, which in those days were released in installments. Pearl mimics this method by breaking up the narration in separate installments from the Boston publishing house, Dickens' American tour, Dickens' son Frank in India at the height of the opium trade, and in England as Dickens' American publisher Mr. Osgood with his bookkeeper Rebecca Sand search for the lost installments and the true end of Dickens' final novel.
"At the top of the stick was an exotic and ugly golden idol, the head of a beast, a horn rising from the top, terrible mouth agape, sparks of fire shooting from its outstretched tongue. It was mesmerizing to behold. Not just because of its shining ugliness, but also because it was such a contrast to the stranger's own mouth, mostly hidden under an ear-to-ear mustache. The man's lips barely managed to pry open his mouth when he spoke." (Page 8 of hardcover)
Pearl includes an examination of the historical accuracies in the novel and which characters were pure fiction or modified historical figures. One part mystery, one part historical fiction, and one part crime novel, The Last Dickens weaves a complex and detailed story that holds readers rapt attention from beginning to end.
While the chapters involving Frank Dickens' time in India uncovering an opium trade are not as prominent as some of the other narratives, it is intricately connected to the main story. However, some readers could find these chapters frustrating because of the gap between those chapters, which could either leave readers frustrated that the tale of Frank Dickens is dropped or anxious for its conclusion. Most readers are likely to err on the side of anxiety, wanting to know more.
"There are many reasons murder is not always found out, and they are not always for cunning. The reason might be the fatigue among those who have been deadened on the inside." (Page 264 of hardcover)
Osgood is not easily swayed when he is hot on the trail of the missing installments and the end of Dickens' novel, and as each layer of the mystery is peeled back for the reader, the dark, cutthroat publishing industry is revealed. Bookaneers are the bottom feeders of the publishing industry, waiting on the docks for the latest installments from the Old World, while publishing giants from New York, like Harper, are eager to acquire these installments by any means necessary and at the expense of their competitors.
The Last Dickens is not just about an unfinished novel or the dark side of publishing. It also takes a look at human conviction in the face of adversity and how perseverance and a moral compass can yield surprising results. Pearl is a mystery master, and The Last Dickens will not disappoint its readers.
guest post, check it out. I want to thank Matthew Pearl, Random House and TLC Book Tours for providing me a free copy of The Last Dickens for review.
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For the giveaway for U.S. and Canada residents: ***Just got word I have 2 copies available***
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Deadline is Oct. 29, 2009 at 11:59 PM EST