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The Last Dickens: A Novel [Paperback]

Matthew Pearl
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 6 2009
Boston, 1870. When news of Charles Dickens’s sudden death reaches his struggling American publisher, James Osgood sends his trusted clerk, Daniel Sand, to await the arrival of Dickens’s unfinished final manuscript. But Daniel never returns, and when his body is discovered by the docks, Osgood must embark on a quest to find the missing end to the novel and unmask the killer. With Daniel’s sister Rebecca at his side, Osgood races the clock through a dangerous web of opium dens, sadistic thugs, and literary lions to solve a genius’s last mystery and save his own–and Rebecca’s–lives.

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The Last Dickens: A Novel + The Poe Shadow: A Novel
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Review

"A rousing yarn of opium, book pirating, murder most foul, man-on-man biting and other shenanigans—and that's just for starters.[The Last Dickens is] a pleasing whodunit that resolves nicely, bookending Dan Simmons's novel Drood (2009) as an imaginative exercise in what might be called alternative literary history.—Kirkus

"Just what do the seemingly disparate parts of the story have to do with one another? What the publisher becomes embroiled in, in London, is far more complicated than simply manuscript detection. A whole world of life-and-death nefariousness awaits both him and the reader, who will be well rewarded."—Booklist


“Well executed and tightly controlled…extremely clever.”—Los Angeles Times

“Pearl’s plot is ambitious and satisfying, involving a murder and a missing manuscript, the opium trade, the emerging publishing business In New York and Boston, and the predicament of single, divorced women in America in the 19th century. Fans of Dickens will appreciate Pearl’s literary allusions and his thoroughly researched characterizations…”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Strongly recommended… Pearl enriches his story through an in-depth knowledge of Dickens’s career and literary works.”—Library Journal


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Matthew Pearl is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow, and the editor of the Modern Library editions of Dante’s Inferno (translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales. Pearl is a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School and has taught literature at Harvard and at Emerson College. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awkward prose makes this unreadable Sept. 7 2009
Format:Hardcover
What seems, at first glance, to be a book with a good idea and a strong plot is made utterly unreadable by the awkward prose employed by the author. It makes the infamous "It was a dark and stormy night" seem good by comparison. I struggled on for 50 pages but could simply take no more. dreadful and to be avoided at all costs.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Historical Fiction May 18 2009
Format:Hardcover
I am a big fan of historical fiction. And the fact that this novel manages to weave historical fiction in and around actual literary events, made the book that much more entertaining for me. The premise?

A publishing house in Boston has been printing Dickens most recent novel in installments. Dickens dies halfway through writing his book, so the publishing house sends one of their partners to England to look for clues to determine if there might be an actual ending to the story. And of course along the way said publishing house partner runs in to rival publishers and the mystery thickens.

This book is well written and thrusts the reader in to what life was actually like in Dickens time. This book is definitely worthy of a read. Pick it up.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good Victorian Mystery Aug. 21 2009
By Nicola Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
First sentence:

Neither of the young mounted policemen fancied these subdivisions of the Bagirhaut province.

Reason for Reading: I'm always interested in Victorian historical fiction plus I've read two other books this year that concerned Charles Dickens: 'Drood' by Dan Simmons and 'Wanting' by Richard Flanagan. Therefore I thought why not add a third to the mix especially since this concentrated on Dickens last novel as did 'Drood'.

Comments: Dickens has just died leaving his last book "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" only half-finished. But one of the partners of his American publishing house James Osgood is certain he may be able to find clues to Dickens' intentions for the story's ending if he travels to England which leads him into a much deeper, darker and dangerous mystery than he had counted on. The book also flashes back a few years to a plot line that follows Dickens' final book tour of America and the trials and tribulations that accompanied him on that last trip. And finally, the book follows a third less frequent plot line of Frank Dickens, Charles' son, who is an officer stationed in India. The time period being consistent with the recent death of his father.

This is a much researched and historically accurate tale as far as Dickens and his family and acquaintances go. Many small real life incidents of his life are included which adds authenticity to the period. I found the characters and the setting to be spot on with regards to Victorian attitudes and ambiance. While the book is populated fiercely with a motley crew of characters, two do stand out as the main characters and I found both James and Rebecca to be both truly believable and completely compelling.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Go to the devil! Villain!" April 28 2009
By Walter Hypes TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Both England and America are thrust into a veritable maelstrom of grief and anxiety when famed author Charles Dickens suddenly expires of a stroke, just months before completing his last novel "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." With only six installments written, both sides of the Atlantic are anxious for an outcome, the story equally sort after in well-appointed and salubrious drawing rooms of the aristocracy as well as in the popular theatrical houses, the fish markets, and crime-packed alleyways and courts of both London and Boston.

Essentially based in a literary conceit, Pearl opens his historical tour-de-force just as rival publishing houses are racing against time to discover whether Dickens did in fact leave any clues as the conclusion of the novel. Certainly the question consumes the young publisher James T Osgood more than anyone could know: "How will it all end with Dickens dead." When Daniel Sand a junior clerk is run down by an omnibus in Dock Square, receiving important papers at the harbor, the advance sheets of the next installments of Edwin Drood sent from London, Osgood is commissioned by Fields, Osgood & Co's senior partner J.T fields to travel to the shores of England and to the estate of Dickens Eventually she fetches up on the shores of England with Daniel's sister, Rebecca in tow.

The aim of the trip is to unlock the mystery surrounding Dickens's last days, but both James and Rebecca - possessed of a sort of a strong hearted fortitude of character - are blindsided by the evil machinations of a variety of stakeholders all desperate to get their hands on the missing part of the novel.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  64 reviews
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mysterious read March 19 2009
By Robert Busko - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Without any doubt, Mathew Pearl is a capable and interesting author. I have yet to read The Dante Club (2002) (my misfortune) but I thoroughly enjoyed The Poe Shadow in 2006. Now comes The Last Dickens, very similar in style and pacing to The Poe Shadow, and well worth your time to read. That is providing you like intelligent, well written, very well researched, mysteries.

The Last Dickens is set in 1870, the year of Dickens' death. James R. Osgood, an American publisher handling what turns out to be Dickens' last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, must travel the world in trying to solve the central mystery of the story, but must also save his ailing publishing business. Pearl manages to sculpt for us a grand mystery and layers it with the scandals of the time. He incorporates historical figures that were contemporaries of Dickens' and does so without becoming unrealistic or comic. The Last Dickens is very "atmospheric" and treats the reader to a wonderful reading experience. Pearl introduces us into a world that is far different from the one we live in today....and not the romantic vision of the Victorians we all seem to hold. Graft and corruption are everywhere. Copyright laws are nonexistent and authors essentially have no protection. Pearl's time researching for The Last Dickens in evident on virtually every page.

There are a number of current authors other than Mathew Pearl that capture the essence of the 19th century as well as he does. Of note are Dan Simmons and also Michael Cox. Dan Simmon's last book, Drood, also deals with the last years of Charles Dickens and incorporates historical figures in the same manner as Mathew Pearl. Michael Cox is also at home writing about the 19th century and has done so masterfully in The Meaning of Night: A Confession and the sequel The Glass of Time. Pearl's story is every bit as compelling as anything other fiction story taking place in the 19th century.

You won't regret reading The Last Dickens. I highly recommend.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can't help but come away with the highly satisfying feeling that you rubbed shoulders with literary giants March 25 2009
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Charles Dickens was the type of author who "even those who never in their life read any novels, would read his." His stories have endured the test of time since the mid-1800s. As THE LAST DICKENS opens, the latest story from the novelist's pen was eagerly awaited by the public. Published as a serial, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD kept people hanging until the next installment. But when he died with it unfinished, it left readers in a frenzy to know what he intended. Had Edwin Drood survived in the end, or would his body be found somewhere?

In 1870, the year of Dickens's death, Boston publishers Fields, Osgood & Co. had the only American rights to print the works of Charles Dickens. Often, that legal right meant very little back then, since, whenever a publisher expected a manuscript, literary thieves called bookaneers would hang around the docks or roam the streets, ready to pilfer whatever they could get their hands on. Even at the public readings, these bookaneers, having schooled themselves at shorthand, would steal the words right from Dickens's mouth.

So it was that Daniel Sand, a delivery boy from Fields & Osgood, ended up being chased down by such a thief. Young Daniel was a trusted employee when he died, leaving his sister Rebecca, a bookkeeper at the publishing house, deep in mourning. For James Osgood, Daniel had also been a promising lad, one he held out much hope for, so the stories of drug use playing a part in his death hits Osgood hard. Barely able to believe it, he goes in search of the truth. And along with his search for what really happened to Daniel, he hopes to find more of THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, praying with great fervor that Dickens had left new chapters, or at least some notes. Anything.

Having exhausted his few leads in Boston, Osgood's quest takes him across the seas to England, where he secures a room in the Falstaff Inn across the road from the gates to Gadshall Place, Dickens's estate. He can't help but wonder: Did Charles Dickens glean ideas for his stories here in the English countryside? Could he have written them based on events of the day, things he read about, people he encountered?

The streets of London turn unkind to Osgood. He finds himself facing great peril, realizing too late that he may have underestimated the danger he has gotten into. But he worries less for his personal safety than for Rebecca's, for she has accompanied him on his trip as his assistant. She has also winnowed her way into his heart, whether he wishes to acknowledge it or not. Osgood must keep a clear head and stay focused on his mission, for the shady characters who seem to be following him have little value for lives other than their own. As it becomes apparent that Dickens likely stashed more of Edwin Drood somewhere, the tension ratchets up to a fever pitch and the Americans must run for their lives.

Matthew Pearl, the internationally bestselling author of THE DANTE CLUB and THE POE SHADOW, brings Charles Dickens to life as wholly as Dickens brought Tiny Tim to life. Fans of the famous writer will rejoice in the wealth of life details and trivia along with the incredible period detail. THE LAST DICKENS is truly a history lesson going hand in hand with a juicy mystery, as entertaining as it is educational. You can't help but come away with the highly satisfying feeling that you rubbed shoulders with literary giants.

--- Reviewed by Kate Ayers
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pales in the shadow of Drood. May 12 2009
By Dennis E. Henley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I began The Last Dickens immediately after finishing Dan Simmon's Drood and it was enlightening to see how different authors treat virtually the same historical material. As I read Pearl's book, I'd encounter a passage and say, "Oh, I remember that from Simmon's book. That adds more detail to what Simmons offered." Unfortunately, that was the most enjoyable part of The Last Dickens.

I read Drood in a few days. At half the length, Pearl's book took me more than twice as long to finish. And it's not because the material wasn't fresh and I was bored.

Both authors harvest the same historical data. But their plots are wildly dissimilar. Simmons concentrates on the last years of Dickens' life and his relationship with Wilkie Collins. Pearl, instead, begins with the death of Dickens and shows how that affects his Boston publisher (who must scramble to find every scrap left of Edwin Drood before publishing pirates devalue their exclusive, albeit expensive, deal with Dickens).

Both books focus on the effects of opium but Simmons uses it to detail one man's descent into paranoia and madness whereas Pearl treats it stereotypically as a trait of his villains. Simmons populates his book with characters who appear to have been lifted from the pages of Dickens' novels (or at least who were models for Dickens' characters). Pearl, on the other hand, doesn't have as many "Dickensian" characters, although he does provide some humor in describing how the English view Americans.

I enjoyed Pearl's depiction of American publishing and the book pirates. His recreation of Dickens American tour was also highly entertaining. But, sadly, his major plot drags and was a chore to read. I hate to keep coming back to Simmon's Drood, but Pearl is unfortunate in having a superior book published at the same time as his own. Not once during my reading of The Last Dickens did I put the book down and say, "Wow!" I had several "Wow!" moments with Simmon's Drood and, in fact, re-read Chapter 47 because it was unbelievably powerful.

If you haven't read either book, I recommend that you read Drood first. I don't think you should dismiss The Last Dickens, though, because it does show how another author treats the same material and many of the scenes in Pearl flesh out the material that Simmon's presents in Drood. Think of it as an addendum to Drood.

Make no mistake: this is not a horrible book. It is just very pale in the shadow of the towering masterpiece that is Dan Simmon's Drood.

KINDLE SPECIFIC
There are a few (not many) instances where Osgood appears as Os-good. This was probably due to the source file having fixed rather than dynamic hyphenation and was obviously missed during the book's conversion to Kindle format. It's annoying, but don't let that stop you from buying the Kindle version.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Literary Fiction & Dickens Too June 5 2009
By Timothy Haugh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After a solid first novel with The Dante Club and a rather blah follow-up with The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl is back to form with The Last Dickens. Obviously always an expert in mid-nineteenth century American literary culture, Pearl spreads his wings a bit here and explores the mystery surrounding Charles Dickens' last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. What was its inspiration? What were his intentions for the novel?

Of course, he doesn't go too far afield. Only part of the novel is set in England. Much of it is set in America, during the course of Dickens' last great reading tour a few years before his death. The primary character is James Osgood of Fields & Osgood, his American publisher, supported by Rebecca Sand, one of the company bookkeepers. They take it upon themselves to investigate Dickens and Drood when Rebecca's brother, Daniel, ends up dead after trying to obtain the most recent galleys of the novel for Osgood.

Pearl has a good time creating a myriad of interesting characters here. His recreation of the cutthroat business of American publishing in the days before settled copyright law makes for fun and fascinating reading. His recreation of the strange events of Dickens on tour is wonderful. And the encounters of personages in England, from the weirdness of the opium den to the friends and family of Dickens is well-done. Particularly memorable are the arrogant Forster and the fictional Tom Branagan.

And, unlike The Poe Shadow, here the plot doesn't get subsumed by historical detail but, rather, adds color to a well-made story. Needless to say, I won't give away the many twists and turns that Pearl has in store, nor will I say anything about the satisfying conclusion of the story which fulfils literary fantasies while ending up true to the history. I will just say that Pearl has created a fine literary thriller in The Last Dickens. Any fan of Dickens or literary thrillers will not want to miss this one.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fine Victorian Era mystery Oct. 10 2009
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In 1870, Charles Dickens dies leaving his last novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished. Soon afterward, several other deaths of people related to the great author occur. Especially stunning is the death of Daniel the office clerk messenger who ran to the docks to retrieve the last chapter of Drood and deliver it to his boss, Dickens's Boston based publisher, James Osgood. Not only is the trustworthy Daniel dead in suspicious circumstances, that valuable finished manuscript is missing; leaving behind only six chapters previously published.

Ruling out murder-theft by a rival house and not one to sit idly back in American hoping for a miracle, Osgood decides to go to England to learn more about his late client's death and what happened to the final chapter. Traveling with Osgood from America is bookkeeper Rebecca Sand, whose late brother is one of the deceased apparently associated with Dickens; she wants to know how he died.

The story line is fast-paced from the moment Osgood (real persona) learns of Dickens's death and never slows down even with flashbacks of the writer's son stationed in India as a superintendent of the Bengal Mounted Police and the 1867 author's tour of America. Fans will enjoy this fine Victorian Era mystery loaded with genuine historical facts and people, and intriguing Dickens trivia. Different from the also entertaining Drood by Dan Simmons, Matthew Pearl provides an entertaining very British final solution to the Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Harriet Klausner
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