The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl
Evidently Charles Dickens’ last novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” is a very popular topic right now. Like Dan Simmons’ latest novel, “Drood,” “The Last Dickens” is centered around this unfinished final novel of Dickens. When Dickens dies halfway through “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” his American publishers Fields, Osgood, & Co are desperately worried. Harper Brothers, a predatory New York publishing house, has already threatened to print cheaper, unauthorized versions of this latest Dickens phenomenon and with the author’s death, it is likely they will see no reason to honor Fields, Osgood, & Co’s exclusivity agreement with Dickens. Add this to the pure intellectual curiousity of wanting to know the fate that Dickens envisioned for Edwin Drood, and the publishers decide to do something, sending Osgood to London in order to try to find some hint of Dickens’ intentions.
I thought “The Last Dickens” to be far more enjoyable than Pearl’s last book, “The Poe Shadow.” However, I think that his first novel, “The Dante Club” is still his best. I appreciated that “The Last Dickens” returned to the same sphere as “The Dante Club,” with many of the same characters reappearing. The stories were also somewhat more similar – a murder mystery and someone recreating parts of a deceased author’s works in real life – without seeming derivative of one another. There were three main threads of story, which was a bit obnoxious at the beginning, but two of them eventually pulled together nicely. The third, the story of Dickens’ son in India, seemed to provide nothing but some rather unnecessary (in my view) historical context to the story.
Even though I figured out the main twist a good ways before the end of the book, “The Last Dickens” was enjoyable. If you like Dickens or you enjoyed Drood, I would guess that you would like this book.