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on May 18, 2009
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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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. Rebecca never stepped out of her place as a woman of her times but as a divorced woman working as a bookkeeper she took no nonsense from anyone as regards her sex. I loved her stinging, yet witty remarks, that kept her completely within her confines as a Victorian woman.

The plot follows many clues and red herrings sending James and (sometimes) Rebecca all over London's shadier sides and to the East End and finally to the dregs of opium dens and thieves quarters. While certainly an interesting read that did keep me reading, I found the pacing slow. It was a book I could put down and not be in a hurry to pick up again. Not because I wasn't liking it but just that it didn't have that certain intensity to it. The ending does increase in pace and there is a typical high energy rush in the final chapters as the mystery is solved, which is all rather cleverly done on the author's part.

One thing I did find fascinating was the description of the the cut-throat world of American publishing at the time. The underhanded dealings, the nefarious goings on, the blatant disregard for international copyright, and in particular the way in which the Harper Brothers were portrayed. If the beginnings of Harper & Bros. and the characters of the brothers themselves have been portrayed realistically here an historical fiction on their family would be an amazing read.

This book would be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a good literary mystery but I also think it will satisfy all the people who did not like 'Drood' by Dan Simmons very much because of the supernatural elements. Now I loved that other book, but for those of you who didn't, I think you'll love 'The Last Dickens' more than I did.
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on April 28, 2009
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. Eventually battling a dark eyed stranger with this grotesque head with crooked sharp razor fangs, James and Rebecca's search links them to Opium fiends and then into the deepest darkest reaches of the narcotic where debauchery and vice go hand in hand with the hallowed halls of educated class and of Dickens's own relatives.

Even back in Boston, the shrewdly evangelical Hurd & Houghton and Harper &Brothers, Osgood and Field's chief rival in New York, will claim no trade courtesy for anything unfinished as they try to rush out and publish Drood without hindrance or disguise. Bursting with action and steeped in historical and literary allusions, all of the characters are beset with choices that are dangerous and frightening. Alternating between Dickens literary tour of America and the accompanying fallout, and James's adventures as he finds himself descending into underbelly of London, this sometimes unwieldy story is essentially a duel of wits that eventually reaches all the way to Bengal, India. Meanwhile, the various stakeholders are determined to best each other in a contest of manners and missions and perverted smugness in a world where the absence international copyright laws are failing to protect the work of the world's most famous writer. Mike Leonard April 09.
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on September 7, 2009
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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