Matthew Pearl’s third historical literary thriller turns its sights onto the mystery of Dickens’ final unfinished work. Shortly after his death, Dickens’ American publisher embarks on a search to find out the true ending of The Mystery of Edwin Drood before his rivals can release a fake.
One of the most interesting parts for me was that around the history of American publishing. Even in the late 17th Century Harper & Brothers (to later become the modern day HarperCollins) were considered the evil publisher trying to usurp independents. Whilst the Bookaneers were by today’s standards criminals, it’s good to think that literature was exciting enough to elicit such a response that today would be limited to film and music.
As always, Pearl’s historical research is interesting reading and most of the stories revolving around Charles Dickens himself are considered fact. The book depicts that beginnings of celebrity culture, with crazed fans and people camping out overnight to purchase tickets. Not to mention those who buy up tickets and sell them for a profit. I bet you thought all these things were modern!
The fiction itself focuses on publisher James Osgood who was indeed Dickens’ representative in America, where at the time international copyright laws didn’t apply. The plot isn’t particularly strong and probably not helped by the fact that we know Drood remains incomplete to this day. Dickens’ son, Francis was also featured, in his role as police in India and involvement with the opium trade. I didn’t quite see the relevance of this, despite opium being widely used throughout the story, and it was somewhat distracting.
I would like to see Pearl tackle something without Boston connections. Granted, Boston was the sensible location for The Dante Club and Poe was at least born there but Dickens’ only connection is that his American publisher resided there. He does take his hero out of America and into England but it does seem that Boston is the centre of his universe.
If you’re interested in the historical aspect, it’s a worthwhile read but if you’re after a fast paced thriller, you would do better elsewhere.