Jessica's Reviews > The Dante Club

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
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's review
Jun 20, 2008

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An interesting literary thriller.
The main characters in this are the great 19th century 'Fireside Poets', namely Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Olver Wendell Holmes, and three other lesser-known men (James Russell Lowe, George Washington Greene, and JT Fields, their publisher). They are preparing to publish the first American edition of Dante's Divine Comedy. This is controversial--almost no one in American is interested in the study of the Italian language, first of all, and also, Dante's work is seen as obscene and too Catholic for the more Protestant American public. Tragically, a series of extremely gruesome murders begins to occur, and our translators begin to realize that they are modeled on the punishments Dante metes out to his sinners in the Inferno. There are few in Boston, or in New England for that matter, who know anything about Dante, let alone enough about the Divine Comedy to orchestrate these murders. The question is, now that they have discovered this odd link, what do these calm, peaceable scholars do about it, and how do they keep the suspicion from turning to themselves?
This book provides a nice, quick read. It is more clever than the majority of novels, with many literary references to both Dante and to the works of the characters. The descriptions of the murder scenes are rather gruesome, though not over the top, and in a way there is no clear sense of menace--these men are real historical figures and are obviously not going to be murdered by a crazed killer. But in general, it is quite well done, and very interesting.
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