Click here to read reviewer Myra Junyk's take on The Last Dickens.
From nineteenth-century Boston to London to Bengal, India, Matthew Pearl once again proves that heís the master of the rip-roaring historical adventure novel. Although not as deftly plotted and tightly bound as the authorís previous titles, The Last Dickens still offers up a rich character study of Charles Dickens and those intent
on uncovering the last part of his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
The most famous author in the world, Dickens burst upon the
Transatlantic literary scene in a conflagration of brilliance, his works absolutely devoured by rich and poor alike.
When he suddenly expired of a stroke just months before completing Edwin Drood, both England and America
were thrust into a maelstrom of grief. With only six installments written, both sides of the Atlantic were anxious for an outcome.
Thus begins Pearlís earnest literary conceit as various stakeholders vie for the final pages, the conclusion of the story just as sought after in the well-appointed and salubrious drawing rooms of the aristocracy as in the popular theatrical houses, fish markets, and crime-packed alleyways and courts of London and Boston. Certainly the question of whether Dickens did in fact leave any clues to the conclusion of his novel consumes young James T. Osgood of Bostonís leading publishing house, Fields, Osgood & Co.
Determined to discover the truth, danger enters Jamesís midst when Daniel Sand, Osgood and Co.'s junior clerk, is run down by an omnibus in Dock Square after receiving important papers at the harbor: the advance sheets of the next installments of
Edwin Drood sent from London. With his body still warm on the cold, hard
mortuary slab, James is commissioned by senior partner J.T. Fields to travel with Rebecca, Danielís sister, to the shores of England and the estate of Dickens in the hope that the installments can be found.
As rumors abound that Dickens had in fact told various people about his ending, James and Rebecca
are blindsided by the evil machinations of a dark-eyed stranger with a grotesque head and crooked razor-sharp fangs who will stop at nothing to obtain the mysterious installments. Eventually James and Rebeccaís search leads them to a group of opium fiends and into the deepest, darkest reaches of the narcotic where, debauchery and vice go hand-in-hand with the hallowed halls of
the English upper-class and the innocent machinations of Dickensí own relatives.
With important plot elements mirror Dickens' fictional story of Drood, Pearlís tale is bathed with elements of fact - real-life characters take their place amid menacing and murderous villains, debauched opium addicts, divorced damsels, heroic Irishmen, even scandalous, self-seeking publishers
intent on taking full advantage of the lack of international copyright laws to pursue their own selfish ends.
Possessed of a strong-hearted fortitude of character, James unwittingly becomes the real hero of this novel. Dickens himself appears as a major player, his hugely successful American tour a veritable highlight of the story. Offering up an authentic smorgasbord of detail on the 19th-century publishing industry, the bookís most interesting feature is that of the rival houses - in Boston and New York - who claim no trade courtesy for anything unfinished as they seek to rush out and publish the infamous
Edwin Drood without hindrance or disguise.