“Neither of the young mounted policemen fancied these subdivisions of the Bagirhaut province.  Neither of them fancied jungles where all manner of things could happen unprovoked, unseen, as they had a few years before when a poor lieutenant was stripped, clubbed, and drowned in the river for trying to collect licensing taxes.  The officers clamped the heels of their boots tighter into their horses’ flanks.  Not to say they were scared – only careful.”

In 1870, the world is rocked with the news of the sudden death of literary genius Charles Dickens.  The publishing house of Fields & Osgood is particularly shaken, their exclusive publishing rights to Dickens’ newest book, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”, is their strongest chance to survive as a company, and now it looks like the rest of the story will not be forthcoming unless Dickens has miraculously written 2/3 of a book before his death.  When they send a young intern, Daniel Sand, to England to pick up the remaining installments, he is brutally murdered in the streets mere blocks from the publishing house on his return.  The manuscripts disappear into the crowd of onlookers. Daniel’s sister, Rebecca, and one of the partners of the publishing house, James Osgood, are sent to England themselves to search for any clues to the possible ending to Dickens’ last novel.  But along the way, they are attacked and soon realize there is much more to the story of Edwin Drood than any of the world know, and they are in the thick of a scramble for what could be a priceless story, fighting alongside opium dealers, rival publishing house hired thugs, murderers, greedy business men, and even characters from Dickens’ story itself.

I always have a hard time getting in to Pearl’s novels.  They tend to start a little slow, setting building blocks throughout several story lines which will inevitably converge before the end.  This novel is no exception, jumping back and forth in time and between England, India, and Boston.  I never feel like I’m quite smart enough to grasp what Pearl is trying to entertain me with, but the stories are still intriguing and the literary aspect is more than enough to keep me reading.  Unlike “The Dante Club”, the characters in this novel actually made me feel empathy towards their plight, I found myself rooting for them rather than apathetic towards the conclusion of the story. This might be simply because there were far less of them to keep track of than in “The Dante Club”.

I may go back and read this story again in a few years, because it feels like the sort of book that you would benefit from reading a few times – picking up more the second time through when you’re not merely plugging through to find out the ending.  I still have trouble understanding the reason behind the inclusion of some of the minor story lines.  They weren’t hindering the main story, but I felt at a loss as to why we were being told about these happenings.  They felt relevant but unnecessary.

I still have one more Matthew Pearl book to read, and while I’m looking forward to it, I’m not planning on picking it up anytime soon.  However, I do recommend this novel if you like a meaty literary mystery – deeper than a Grisham or Cornwall etc.  It involves real aspects of the death of Dickens and the unfinished “Drood” which you may find interesting if you are a Dickens’ fan.  Be sure to set aside plenty of time to read it – it isn’t long, but it’s the sort of novel you want to take your time with.

“The Last Dickens” was written by Matthew Pearl and published in 2009.

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