Oh Cannonball Read I haven’t been keeping up with you. I’ve barely been able to read these two months. I finished The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl a while back and just finished The Poe Shadow today. Pearl’s The Last Dickens was one of my favorites of 2011, and I was able to hear him speak on our campus in March, so I decided to give these two a go. I loved The Dante Club. The Poe Shadow, discussed in the next post, was not a fave
Both are mystery novels at their hearts dressed up in Literature. The Dante Club follows four literary friends, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and J.T. Fields, who with the assistance of a detective named Nicholas Rey try to solve murders that echo the descriptions in Dante’s Inferno. Because they are assisting Longfellow with his translation of the Inferno, they are very aware of how the murders match up to Dante’s depictions of hell.
On the Goodreads page I found it humorous how many people complained about the grisliness of the murders when 1) It is a murder mystery. Patricia Cornwell and her ilk get much worse, and 2) It is hell that is being depicted.
If you get squeamish over a few maggots in your mystery, this book is not for you. Overall the murders themselves were depicted well especially considering Pearl was trying to make imitations of Dante’s hell into believable murders.
The characters are the strongest part of the book. The story can be slow at time, but I was drawn in by the individual stories of the four men, particularly Oliver Wendell Holmes. His character has a vulnerability that is endearing. By the end I found myself caring if he died or not. It was also fun to see more of J. T. Fields (who makes an appearance in The Last Dickens). Longfellow is the only character who remains a bit aloof, but this may have been Pearl’s intention. I can only imagine that the one ultra famous character would be difficult to make flesh and blood.
This was definitely one of my favorite books so far in 2012. If you like mysteries with a twist of history, this is a great one to pick up.