“John Kurtz, the chief of the Boston police, breathed in some of his heft for a better fit between the two chambermaids. On one side, the Irish woman who had discovered the body was blubbering and wailing prayers unfamiliar (because they were Catholic) and unintelligible (because she was blubbering) that prickled the hair in Kurtz’s ear; on the other side was her soundless and despairing niece. The parlor had a wide arrangement of chairs and couches, but the women had squeezed in next to the guest as they waited. He had to concentrate on not spilling any of his tea, the black haircloth divan was rattling so hard with their shock.”
Being a lover of Dante, this book drew me merely with its title. Plus, I haven’t had a real good literary murder mystery in a while and it seemed like a good read. Set in Boston in 1865, a group of literary giants has taken it upon themselves to translate The Divine Comedy in to American English for the first time. The Dante Club includes Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, J.T. Fields (a publisher), James Russell Lowell, and George Washington Greene. They are meeting with considerable consternation and opposition – mainly from the halls of Harvard, still a religious school at this point and vehemently against anything Catholic. As they begin to translate the third book – Inferno – two prominent men in Boston are murdered horrifically and violently, and in ways which mirror the torments for specific sins in Dante’s nine circles of hell. The city’s first black police officer, Nicholas Rey, is assigned to assist the chief of police in these cases and holds a key piece of evidence with no frame of reference. The Dante Club takes it upon themselves to help the police as much as possible without becoming formally involved for fear of having Dante banned by Harvard. As they do their best to catch the murderer before the police, they throw themselves and their loved ones ever deeper into harm’s way.
Now, going into this book, I expected several murders but I did not expect them to be so graphic and explained in such detail. I’m not sure why it surprised me, considering how terrible the torments in the Inferno are. It did take me aback, and force me to read the book slower than I normally do – bits and pieces at a time so that I didn’t get too freaked out before bed or too grossed out to go on at all. This mystery novel dances along the line of being just a little too much for me. As for the mystery part – I’m usually pretty good at figuring out whodunit, but this one had me totally stumped. Which is a good thing, right? My only other complaint is that some of the characters were so similar that I began to get them confused with others, but that might be my own fault as opposed to the author’s.
If you are a big Dante fan and a big mystery fan, this might be a good book for you to check out. Just be forewarned that when the author says brutal murders, he means brutal. And described fully. But overall a great book.
“The Dante Club” was written by Matthew Pearl and published in