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The Dante Club: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – June 27, 2006


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (June 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034549038X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345490384
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 4.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (386 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1865 Boston, not many people spoke Italian. It was much more popular for people to study Latin and Greek; the classic works in these languages were common reading for students and academics. But the small circle of literati in Pearl's inventive novel is bent on translating and publishing Dante's Divine Comedy so that all Americans may learn of the writer's genius. As this group of scholars, poets, publishers and professors readies the manuscript, much more exciting doings are happening outside their circle. The Boston police are hot on the trail of a series of murders taking place around town. In one, a priest is buried alive, his feet set on fire; in another, a man's body is eaten by maggots. It doesn't take a rocket scientist-only a Dante expert-to realize these murders are based on Dante's Inferno and its account of Hell's punishments. Scholars become snoopers, and the Dante Club is soon on the scene, investigating the crimes and trying to find the killer. A tad unlikely, but it makes for a terrific story. Gaines gives an stirring performance, nimbly portraying some of the "Hah-vad" professors' "Bah-ston" accents and impressively reading the Italian passages from Dante's work. Although it's sometimes hard to differentiate between the various characters-after awhile each stuffy Bostonian begins to sound alike-Gaines nonetheless amuses and, via Pearl's historical references, educates.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Pearl's fiction debut should please fans of well-crafted literary mysteries. The title refers to an actual group of 19th-century Bostonians who gathered to translate Dante's Inferno for an American audience. Among the members of this exclusive "club" were poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, physician Oliver Wendell Holmes, and poet James Russell Lowell. While poring over the poem, the men find themselves on the trail of a serial killer who tortures his victims in ways that seem to be taken straight out of the pages of Inferno. The police are at a loss and must rely on the club members' unique knowledge of Dante's work to help catch the killer. Pearl, a recognized Dante scholar, uses his expertise to create an absorbing and dramatic period piece. Using historical figures in a mystery setting is not a new idea (e.g., Sir Isaac Newton plays detective in Philip Kerr's Dark Matter), but Pearl has proven himself a master. Best for medium to large public and academic libraries.
--Laurel Bliss, Yale Arts Lib.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 151 people found the following review helpful By Gary Griffiths VINE VOICE on February 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Every few years a book is written that breaks the mold of the standard mystery/thriller fare. Umberto Eco's "Name of the Rose", Martin Cruz Smith's "Rose", more recently Boston Teran's "God is a Bullet", to name a few. "The Dante Club", the remarkable debut of writer Matthew Pearl, is another example that represents a bold, ambitious, and refreshing approach to the familiar serial killer "whodunnit".

I'll admit that at first I was somewhat leery of the concept: the Fireside Poets - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell cast as investigators of a string of horrific murders? An ambitious premise for a novel, for sure, but more aptly, bizarre and ripe with risk. Pearl, however, pulls this off with a curious combination of the poet's love of the language and the storyteller's knack for pace and action.

The "Dante Club" refers to the group assembled by Longfellow - including Holmes and Lowell - to assist him in the first American translation of Dante's "Divine Comedy". As people in high places - a judge, a minister, a wealthy merchant - turn up tortured and murdered in scenes recreating those described in Dante's classic, the poets hit the streets of Boston and Cambridge in search of the killer. The result is an exceptionally well-researched book that is rich in historical detail while capturing the post-Civil War American psyche and culture. Pearl's description of the Civil War horrors and post-war trauma is especially gripping. Not since "Silence of the Lambs" or "Se7en" have murders been so brutally and vividly portrayed, as the victims are variously eaten-alive by maggots, buried upside-down and set on fire, and (literally) cut in half.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By John Lubahn on August 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Mattew Pearl's recent novel, the Dante Club, combines history, suspense, and mystery in a truly unique reading experience. Famous, well known characters such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Windell-Holmes and James Russell Lowe are intricately woven into a plot which develops around their translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Their work is disrupted however, when a series of murders in Boston are modeled after mankind's punishment in hell as described in Dante's Inferno. The murder of prominent citizens modeled after their translation make them suspect.
These noted historical authors work closely with a black police officer, Nichola Ray, to prove their innocence and solve the murders.
The vivid description of Boston in 1865 and the unique literary skill of Mattew Pearl to weave the history of the civil war and racial relations into this time period is pure genius. The words used to describe the Boston street scene at this time in history are reminiscent of Caleb Carr's description of New York City in his book the Alienist.
This book is a must for any reader who enjoys historical fiction and I would strongly recommend it to them.
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Sean Conwell on April 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I've read many reviews from other people touting the "greatness" of Matthew Pearl's debut novel. While I DO agree The Dante Club is a great achievement for Pearl as it showcases his Harvard education, I can't quite stomach the absolute opaqueness the novel exudes. After reading the novel, I know more about Dante and the historical circle of Longfellow, Lowell, and Holmes, but I don't have a very clear sense of the STORY, the murderous tale that is the premise of the novel. You will be absolutely blown away by the grotesquely wonderful opening of The Dante Club--maggots and all--but you'll quickly lose interest as Pearl takes you on a very long, DRY journey through a post-Civil War Boston. In a nutshell: You might get to visit the rings of Dante's Hell and appreciate Matthew Pearl's use of that classic as a launchpad for The Dante Club, but you're better served to put down--PUT DOWN!--this novel and quickly run to a more entertaining historical murder thriller like Caleb Carr's The Alienist.
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58 of 71 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I am one of those people who always gives a book a fair chance to impress or entertain me. Even if I am bored, I'll keep reading in the hopes that it will get better. This one didn't, and after getting halfway through it, I had to put myself out of my misery. I was so disgusted with it that I threw it in the trash rather than passing it on to someone else.
Before you decide that it must have been just too highbrow for me (the last person I told I hated it replied, "Danielle Steele must be more your speed"), let me say that I teach literature and my area of expertise is the Renaissance. Let me also say, to anyone who thinks of attacking from the opposite direction, that I enjoyed Caleb Carr's THE ALIENIST. And Ian McEwan, Gunter Grass, Ha Jin, Toni Morrison, and Henry James number among my favorite authors--a pretty eclectic bunch, I'd say.
Dante is not the problem, nor is the idea of a mystery involving well-known persons. It is Pearl's boringly pretentious style. He is much more impressed with his own cleverness than I could ever be with this book. Some reviews I've read marvel that this is a first book; I say, "It shows."
I'm told the ending makes it worth sticking with; but as Carly Simon said, "I haven't got time for the pain"--especially when there are so many excellent books out there I'm dying to read.
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