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last dickensTitle: The Last Dickens

Writer: Matthew Pearl

Publisher/Edition: Random House Trade Paperback (2009)

Pages: 396p

Bought at: Better World Books (USD 3,98 – bargain price!)

It was 1870 in Boston, and the news about Charles Dickens’s death had just reached his publisher in America, James Osgood. The news could not become more sensational, because at the time of his death, Dickens was writing his latest novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Afraid that the book pirates would take advantage of this situation, Osgood asked his trusted clerk, Daniel Sand, to await the arrival of Dickens’s unfinished final manuscript at the Boston dock. But Daniel never returned, found dead in Boston street, and his death remained a mystery for Osgood.

Osgood decided to go to London, accompanied by Daniel’s sister Rebecca, to find out about the rest of Dickens’s final manuscripts, and trace back the last days of the great writer’s life.

I have read The Dante Club, another literary mystery by Matthew Pearl, and quite liked it. I also have read what remains of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the story (and mystery behind the writing) always mesmerized me. So I guess it’s totally normal when I put high expectation of this book. The premise was so good- about Charles Dickens’s last unfinished novel, was there any chapter left besides the ones that finally made into the book? And what’d it like to be in Dickens’s world, became a part of his complicated famous life?

I really wanted to like this book a bit more, but I was pretty stuck at the plot. I think it’s quite interesting to know about Dickens’s past life, his flaws and greatness, and the characterization of the legend was quite decent. The fact about book piracy in those days- where copyright laws had not been established for foreign authors and publishers – was very captivating too. There was this hard competition between publishers to be the first that could publish Dickens’s works- even though they did it illegally.

I think those two main things would be sufficient to make a fast paced, cool literary mystery and thriller based on historical facts. But unfortunately, Pearl wanted to do more. And sometimes, too much is just too much, it feels like eating a dish with too much salt.

Pearl also put other subplots about opium trade, secret organization, and even an unnecessary story in India- involving one of Dickens’s sons who worked as an officer there. Honestly, the ending of this book- the twist and answer of all the mysteries- was not convincing at all. It’s a bit too much, too complicated without being smart. I’m pretty disappointed on the ending. The Last Dickens is a perfect example of a book with good premise- but was executed in a wrong, wrong way.

In a Dickens story, readers were not asked to aspire to a higher class or to hate other classes than their own, but to find the humanity and the humane in all. That is what had made him the world’s most famous author. (p33)

And this book, sadly, didn’t do much justice to that quote 🙂

Matthew Pearl is an American novelist and educator. His novels include The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens, and The Technologists and have been published in more than 40 countries.

Pearl graduated from University School of Nova Southeastern University (NSU). He attended Harvard College and Yale Law School and has taught writing and literature at Emerson College and Harvard University. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Dante Club was published in 2003. His second novel, a historical thriller about the death of Edgar Allan Poe called The Poe Shadow, was published by Random House in the United States on May 23, 2006 and was a New York Times bestseller. His third novel, The Last Dickens, was published in the United States on March 17, 2009.

In 2012, his novel, The Technologists, was published in the United States.

Pearl has also written op-ed articles on literature and culture for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Boston Globe.

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