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The Last Dickens: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 17, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Pearl (The Poe Shadow) delivers a period thriller that has the misfortune to fall short of the high standard set by Dan Simmons's Drood (Reviews, Nov. 24), which also centers on Charles Dickens's final, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. After the author dies in 1870, a series of suspicious deaths leads Dickens's U.S. publisher, James Osgood, to suspect they may be connected with the solution to the novel's puzzle. Accompanied by attractive bookkeeper Rebecca Sand, the sister of one of the victims, Osgood travels from Boston to England to seek clues to Drood's missing conclusion. The action shifts to India, where Charles's son Francis is a superintendent of the Bengal Mounted Police, and back in time, to the novelist's last American tour in 1867. Some awkward prose distracts ("There were several other grim faces at dinner that, like some imperceptible force, spread a dark cloud over the levity"), while the ending may strike some readers as a cop-out. (Mar.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Many critics compared Pearl’s latest effort to Dan Simmons’s recent, lengthy SF novel Drood (HHHJ May/June 2009)—though they are far different beasts. A historical literary mystery filled with real-life figures, The Last Dickens showcases Pearl’s impressive research into the Victorian era—from opium wars in India to publishing house culture. The novel also entertains, with surprising twists that quickly turn sinister. Yet American critics faulted the tangential (and coincidental) subplots, while British reviewers questioned Pearl’s grasp on their culture. For readers interested in Dickens or who want an engaging mystery, however, The Last Dickens is “a fitting testament to the thrall in which many of us are still held by the world of the great Victorian novelists” (Christian Science Monitor).
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
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Top customer reviews
Of course, he doesn't go too far afield. Only part of the novel is set in England. Much of it is set in America, during the course of Dickens' last great reading tour a few years before his death. The primary character is James Osgood of Fields & Osgood, his American publisher, supported by Rebecca Sand, one of the company bookkeepers. They take it upon themselves to investigate Dickens and Drood when Rebecca's brother, Daniel, ends up dead after trying to obtain the most recent galleys of the novel for Osgood.
Pearl has a good time creating a myriad of interesting characters here. His recreation of the cutthroat business of American publishing in the days before settled copyright law makes for fun and fascinating reading. His recreation of the strange events of Dickens on tour is wonderful. And the encounters of personages in England, from the weirdness of the opium den to the friends and family of Dickens is well-done. Particularly memorable are the arrogant Forster and the fictional Tom Branagan.
And, unlike The Poe Shadow, here the plot doesn't get subsumed by historical detail but, rather, adds color to a well-made story. Needless to say, I won't give away the many twists and turns that Pearl has in store, nor will I say anything about the satisfying conclusion of the story which fulfils literary fantasies while ending up true to the history. I will just say that Pearl has created a fine literary thriller in The Last Dickens. Any fan of Dickens or literary thrillers will not want to miss this one.
So I took this one up with Great Expectations (pun intended)... Well, maybe that was my mistake. It took me over two months to finish this book because I just couldn't get myself to pick it up again.
Truth be told, the second half is much more interesting and easier to swallow than the first half. Still, I wouldn't go as far as saying that it's worth the mental effort it caused me to finish it.
The topic is undoubtedly interesting, the way the mystery unfolded not so much. The pace is slow and pieces take too long to come together.
I felt the characters to be too shallow and those who had more potential lay in the background only called into action to fill the gaps in the story.
I'm in half a mind to read Poe's Shadow in order to decide wether the book is faulty or if the problem is the author... Maybe next year...