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The Last Dickens

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In his most enthralling novel yet, the critically acclaimed author Matthew Pearl reopens one of literary history’s greatest mysteries. The Last Dickens is a tale filled with the dazzling twists and turns, the unerring period details, and the meticulous research that thrilled readers of the bestsellers The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow.

Boston, 1870. When news of Charles Dickens’s untimely death reaches the office of his struggling American publisher, Fields & Osgood, partner James Osgood sends his trusted clerk Daniel Sand to await the arrival of Dickens’s unfinished novel. But when Daniel’s body is discovered by the docks and the manuscript is nowhere to be found, Osgood must embark on a transatlantic quest to unearth the novel that he hopes will save his venerable business and reveal Daniel’s killer.

Danger and intrigue abound on the journey to England, for which Osgood has chosen Rebecca Sand, Daniel’s older sister, to assist him. As they attempt to uncover Dickens’s final mystery, Osgood and Rebecca find themselves racing the clock through a dangerous web of literary lions and drug dealers, sadistic thugs and blue bloods, and competing members of Dickens’s inner circle. They soon realize that understanding Dickens’s lost ending is a matter of life and death, and the hidden key to stopping a murderous mastermind.

386 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Matthew Pearl

26 books1,331 followers
Note from the author:Hi everyone. My newest novel is The Dante Chamber, out May 29, 2018. It's a follow-up to my debut novel, The Dante Club, but you do not have to read one before the other, each stands on its own two feet. Hope you'll enjoy any of books you choose to pick up.

Matthew Pearl's novels have been international and New York Times bestsellers translated into more than 30 languages. His nonfiction writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, The Atavist Magazine, and Slate. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that Matthew's books are part of "the growing genre of novel being written nowadays -- the learned, challenging kind that does not condescend." Globe and Mail declares him "a writer of rare talents," Library Journal calls Matthew "the reigning king of popular literary historical thrillers," and the New York Daily News raves "if the past is indeed a foreign country, Matthew Pearl has your passport." Matthew has been chosen Best Author for Boston Magazine's Best of Boston and received the Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction.

In addition to Goodreads, you can keep in touch and learn more at my website, www.matthewpearl.com, and:
Twitter: @matthewpearl
Facebook: fb.me/matthewpearlauthor
Instagram: matthewpearlauthor

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Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,256 reviews1,129 followers
August 13, 2023
Charles Dickens’s final, unfinished novel has been a source of speculation ever since the author’s death in 1870. All Dickens’s novels were initially printed in serial form, with each installment published as he wrote it, and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” was in the middle of being serialised. At the time of Dickens’s death just 6 installments had been fully completed, and another six installments were still to come.

Ever since his 7th novel, “Dombey and Son”, Charles Dickens had planned his novels with what he termed “mems” as aide-memoires. Each chapter heading would be followed by a note of what he wanted to develop in that chapter, but it was very brief; perhaps consisting in just a phrase, plus the names of two or three characters. It is impossible to predict his plot from his mems alone, and for the final six chapters of Edwin Drood, these notes just consist of headings, with the contents remaining blank. It clearly was a fluid, changeable project, with no overall written plan. Dickens sometimes had a vague idea of his outline, as we can tell from his letters to his mentor and friend John Forster. But he was always keen to respond to his public’s reactions too, changing various aspects as he wrote his current serial. Perhaps he was leaving it open here too. We have a myriad of clues, but will never actually know how he intended to finish “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”.

Yet some people are sure they have the solution, and there have been many attempts to finish Dickens’s masterpiece; at least 36 separate completions and sequels so far. Spin-off novels about characters from Dickens novels, or rewrites with an updated setting, are also becoming increasingly popular. One such about “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” by Dan Simmons is called simply “Drood”.

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl is a slightly different take on this. Dickens loved mysteries, and his previous fourteen novels are peppered with mysterious strangers, age-old family plots, mysteries of inheritance, embezzlement and fraud, secret family connections, characters who have the same names, doppelgängers, mysterious coincidences, mistaken identities, and the like. But the mystery genre was in its infancy, and only in Dickens’s final novel did the mystery take centre stage.

In The Last Dickens Matthew Pearl has not taken a character, or the plot-line to reinterpret, but the incomplete novel itself as the mystery. He ponders the question whether it is possible that some trace of the six unwritten episodes remained. Was there even perhaps a completed manuscript of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” somewhere? As can be seen, this is not at all likely, as it is not consistent with Dickens’s way of working, but in the end, this is fiction. There are more extreme contemporary novels about for instance the writing of “A Christmas Carol”, which completely ignore well documented facts, and The Last Dickens scrupulously avoids doing this. Indeed, it is almost too scholarly for its own good, as I hope to show.

The novel is divided into six installments, much as novels during the Victorian era were split, and there are three main lines of action. The linking story is about a fictitious character, James R. Osgood’s search for the supposedly missing chapters of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”, and takes place in 1870. Literary pirates in America were a bane of Charles Dickens’s life, and he had fought hard to stop the theft of his and other authors’ manuscripts in this way.

If he finds the missing chapters, Osgood then hopes to prevent literary pirates from circulating unauthorised versions of the novel in America. This would also help his own company (the struggling American publisher, Fields & Osgood who were Dickens’s American publishers) regain ground in a growingly competitive market. Their trusted clerk Daniel Sand is despatched to collect Dickens’s latest chapters

The second line of action is set in Boston and London, and flashes back to Charles Dickens’s second tour of the United States in 1867. Despite a tempestuous and controversial first visit in 1842, in which he was highly critical of American practices such as slavery, he had an enormous fan base there. The main object this time was for Dickens to make money by holding public readings all over the nation. However, he was not in good health, and had to nerve himself up to it, against the advice of his doctor, and of his best friend and mentor John Forster. On arrival he said to his manager George Dolby:

“These people have not in the least changed in the last twenty-five years … They are doing already what they were doing all those years ago, making me some object of novelty to gaze upon! Dolby, I should have kept my word.”

In this part of the novel, Matthew Pearl draws very heavily on John Foster’s massive biography of his friend Dickens, the only one which Dickens himself authorised. Possibly Matthew Pearl took his anecdotal material mainly from from other writers who have also used this source material, as the end credits mention “The Dickensian” magazine. This is fair enough, but apart from the addition of Osgood and his fair assistant (and potential love interest in this novel) Rebecca Sand, there is very little original here. Many of these pages are merely the author rewriting parts of the biography. Not only does it feel wooden, but it interferes with the pacing of the novel, and does not move the action on.

In London we meet Dickens’s sister in law Georgina Hogarth and his daughter Mamie, the two females he most trusted with his works (and who in turn were to write their memories of him for the adoring public) and John Forster himself. Yet none of them has much presence—nor are they necessary for the story itself. They seem to be there merely as puppets, describing various aspects of Dickens’s life and his personality. I found these sections very weak—not because the author had taken liberties with the facts—but because they had been rendered so lifeless.

The third line of action takes place in Bengal in 1870, where Dickens’s son Francis (called here “Frank”) was serving as a policeman. In fact the novel starts here, with a scene in the Bagirhaut province, with two junior officers. One seems to be behaving suspiciously, and has little respect for their absent commanding officer “Dickens”. When I read this, I was quite excited to think that the author had incorporated “Chickenstalker” Francis Dickens in his tale. Charles Dickens had sent several of his sons abroad, to encourage them to make their mark. He had sent “Young Skull” Walter to India, where he became a lieutenant in the 42nd Highlanders. Unfortunately he got into debt and died in 1863, aged just 22, and his debts were sent home to his father. Just a month later, Francis had discovered the fact as he had joined the Bengal Mounted Police. He returned to England in 1871, the year after Dickens’s own death. But he too squandered his inheritance and emigrated to Canada, with a commission in the North-West Mounted Police. However he was to redeem himself there, remaining in the Canadian force for 12 years, and being promoted to Inspector in 1880. Hence at the time of this novel, Francis Dickens was still in Bengal: a supervisor who did not cut much of a figure, and had yet to make a success of his career.

Frank Dickens takes a keen interest in the opium trade, which kick-starts the novel with a bang, because we are well aware that “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is based on opium dealing, with at least one main character an addict. The few chapters devoted to this subplot effectively depict the rampant circulation of opium and the British Empire’s shamefaced involvement. The trouble is that the parts with Frank Dickens are not properly incorporated into the story. Apart from the fact that Frank Dickens’s relationship with his distinguished father was virtually non-existent, this section never really ties back to the main plot. While initially promising, it ultimately fails to pay off, and by the end of the novel it feels more like an annoying afterthought.

The main thrust of the mystery lies with Osgood and Rebecca. Determined to hinder the publishing of pirate versions of the completed novel in America, Osgood and his assistant leave for England, hoping to find information—or even better—any unreleased installments. However, what initially starts off as a seemingly safe errand soon becomes a growingly dangerous mission. There is quite a menacing and savage villain; a dark eyed beast of a man, with an ornate walking stick, headed with grotesquely crooked and razor-sharp fangs.

Matthew Pearl seems to be emulating Dickens’s style at times, deliberating disguising the names of his characters and alluding to them as “the stranger” and so on. But the descriptions of violent events are simply gratuitously bloody and oddly ineffective. These events are not horrific, just as none of the novel shows any wit or the humour Dickens himself loved. Our emotions are not engaged as they are with Dickens’s writing. We are spectators, rather than being absorbed in the story.

By now we can see the intertextual parallels between Matthew Pearl’s narrative and Dickens’s novel. The sinister presence of opium is a common feature, and What had actually happened proves to be a complex mystery.

Just as the story strand about mesmerism is based on fact, so is the opium den. The opium den run by a woman called Sally, was based on a real opium den, run by Ah Sing, or “John Johnston” as he was known to his clients, an immigrant from Amoy in China. Some of the literary elite of the time including both Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens himself visited the area, although whether they themselves took up the “pipe” has remained undisclosed. Ah Sing's opium den was probably the most famous of the dens in Victorian London, attracting gentlemen from the very elite of London's high society, for recreational purposes.

“The Bookaneers” too really existed, and plagued Dickens by taking notes verbatim as he gave his performances, to pass on to plagiarising publishers as shortened versions. And Louisa Barton is based on

Matthew Pearl’s narrative is clearly modelled on that of a modern detective story. The Last Dickens is a complex and elaborate account of events, partly detailing Dickens’s writing and life, and daring to recreate an interesting solution to Dickens’s mystery, concluding that Sadly though, this just doesn’t accord with the facts about how he wrote his novels, as described earlier. If he had done this, he would have been breaking the habit of a lifetime, apart from raising the obvious question, why? It just does not pass muster.

Clearly this book is intended for marketing as a literary novel, in the neo-Victorian genre. The author has also written a novel about Edgar Allan Poe, and one about some 19th century American poets and literary professors. Sadly I won’t be searching them out. The Last Dickens is a novel I had been “saving up”, hoping to savour it. In the end I found it flat, unnecessarily complicated, and boring.

The writing of Charles Dickens is never boring! I think I’ll stick to reading the “Chief” himself.
Profile Image for Linda.
146 reviews3 followers
September 3, 2009
The first Matthew Pearl novel I read was THE POE SHADOW, which was a fascinating concept --- allowing the reader to experience such a famous (and mysterious) writer as a real person. I felt that the idea was not equaled by the execution in that book. I thought I would try one more time, however, so I just finished reading THE LAST DICKENS, obviously a novel featuring Charles Dickens. Once again, the concept was great. In both cases the author based his characters and events on true stories and remembrances. While it might be jarring to hear the iconic Edgar Allen called "Eddie Poe" and Dickens called "Chief," I loved the realism of it. The author's research was impeccable, and his settings in 1870 London and Boston were rich in atmosphere and mood. I learned a tremendous amount about the publishing wars in both countries, of which I had no prior knowledge. And it was amazing to realize that Charles Dickens was probably bigger in his time than any "superstar" we have today. Picture the reaction to personal appearances by the Beatles, and that's pretty much what the public reaction was at the time.

My problems with this book once again had nothing to do with the author's ideas, plots, or research. My criticisms have to do with his writing style. First of all, the story moves at a snail's pace and was more boring than it should have been considering all the murder and mayhem it contained. The main problem, however, was Pearl's disjointed writing style. He jumped around so much that the story became unnecessarily hard to follow. His sentence composition was often awkward and some sections were so unclear that I had to reread them several times to figure out what in the world he was trying to say. Some of the plot twists made little sense, and the characters were a bit cardboard. All in all, I give him an A for the concept, but a C for the finished product. A disappointment.
Profile Image for Simona B.
898 reviews3,009 followers
April 20, 2018

“Looking around, it seemed every character from every Dickens novel, aristocrat and common, pompous and inconspicuous, had come to life...”

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl is an entertaining novel and a treat for Dickens fanatics such as myself. As much as I enjoyed myself, however, I think that I would have appreciated the book more if I hadn't already read and reread and loved The D. Case or The Truth About The Mystery Of Edwin Drood by Fruttero and Lucentini. The aims of these two works are not exactly one and the same, and as a result they unfold in two different directions in a beautiful parallelism, as one starts investigating the novel Drood and the other the manuscript Drood, and then they both proceed to cross and blur the boundaries between reality and fiction, and between fiction and criticism.

That book, now, The D. Case, is a real literary investigation that had me down on my knees in adoration; and I guess that the problem is that I expected once again something on that line. And truth be told, in part I got it: only a great scholar equipped with an exceptional and devoted imagination could think of spinning this story around Poe's Philosophy of Composition and make it believable, or at least not entirely absurd. Other plot devices I liked way less and found way less realistic, . The book also provided, under a thin fictional disguise, a lot of actual historical information on Dickens, the publishing industry, the opium trade and so forth, and for me that's only a bonus.

Long story short, I may not have loved the plot in itself, but pretty much everything else about The Last Dickens was a success for me. I could even be persuaded to raise my rating in the future, according to how the memory of the book will sediment. What is sure is that Matthew Pearl was able to inject new life in the deep fascination the Drood mystery (both fictional and real) holds for me.
Profile Image for Piyangie.
530 reviews489 followers
June 21, 2018
The first book I read of Matthew Peal was the Last Bookaneer, a later publication to the Last Dickens. I loved the Last Bookaneer so much and expected same competence in this book. But I'm so sorry to say that this book was a disappointment. I loved the information given in the book relating to Charles Dicken which in fact gave me a new awareness and new perspective regarding the renowned author. I thank Mr. Pearl for that. But the main plot was so disturbed with some incidental, I would say irrelevant, sub story line based in Bengal, India. I also felt that the living years of Charles Dicken as described through his reading tour in America was too detailed. It distracted me from the main mystery plot. In the final chapters everything slowly put in to place but by that time I was a little exhausted with the reading. All these facts contributed to me reading the book at a snail's pace and the slow reading affected all my excitement over the book.
Profile Image for Gerry.
Author 42 books96 followers
November 8, 2022
A literary thriller evolving around Dickens' last book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. James Osgood of his American publishers sets out to find whether the book was actually completed and if so, where are the final chapters. Thrills abound as he and Rebecca Sand, an employee and a lady that he is secretly in love with, visit opium dens and are beset by various problems as the action flits seamlessly between Bengal, Dickens's son is there in the police, Boston and London. Some of the more shady characters are very Dickensian in a detective story with a difference.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,952 reviews1,294 followers
November 22, 2009
Recipe for a historical mystery: 1) Find an unsolved mystery from a past time period. 2) Think up a plausible solution for the mystery, then take some historical characters and have them discover the truth. 3) Come up with a plausible explanation for why, if these people solved the mystery, it remains unsolved to this day.

Recipe for a historical literary mystery: repeat the steps above, shake vigorously, and add a dead writer of your choice. Missing manuscripts and unfinished novels are a bonus. Serve cold, with a nice white wine.

The Last Dickens is an interesting breed of mystery. It's mysterious, all right, but also historical. And it's literary! It's like someone has taken three of my favourite ideas: mysteries, histories, and dead writers, and caused them to collide in the Victorian era, just to see what happens. What fun! Unfortunately, I didn't like The Last Dickens as much as I wanted to.

I suppose this book will inevitably be compared to Drood , so I'll get that out of the way and then not mention it again. This book is much better than Drood. Its story is superior; its characters are more enjoyable; and it does a much better job exploring the mystery of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Still, I found both books difficult to enjoy, and now I realize why. I'm not convinced there is much mystery to be had. To some extent, sure, it's fun to wonder what ending Dickens had in mind for his final novel. But the idea that it was semi-biographical, "based on a true story," and the idea that an American publisher would cross the Atlantic to go on a dramatic quest for the lost installments of Edwin Drood . . . it's a stretch, and apparently not one I'm willing to take.

Let's suppose, for the sake of this review, that I do believe. How compelling is this mystery that Matthew Pearl weaves?

James Ripley Osgood is an earnest individual. And I hate him. He has no depth. I know I'm supposed to like him, to see him as the hero, and to applaud his fortitude and courage. To be fair, he has good moments—and as a mouthpiece for the pro-literary themes of this book, he serves his purpose. Yet he changes very little in this book, and I never feel like I connect with him as a protagonist. The same goes for his companion and obvious romantic interest, Rebbecca Sand. Indeed, most of the characters in The Last Dickens are disappointingly drab set pieces instead of actual people. Pearl has done a wonderful job recreating the atmosphere for 1870s England and America, but it feels like a town full of actors playing very scripted roles: Osgood is earnest, Rebbecca is clever, Major Harper is devilish, and Wakefield is diabolical and double-crossing. Even the great Chief himself, Charles Dickens, is a mere shadow in this book.

And what was with that subplot in India with Dickens' son Frank all about? I had hoped it would have some sort of relevance, but all it does is demonstrate how the opium trade has affected India. But it only directly connects to the main plot once, when we learn that the thieves behind the opium heist Frank investigates are suppliers for the book's shadowy villain. Which we didn't really need to know. And once again, Turner and Mason were stock characters: Turner is pompous, thinks that Dickens got his post as superintendent only on his name, and turns out to be dirty; Mason is a well-meaning idiot. The entire plot felt superfluous, I'm sad to say.

This careful but ultimately unimpressive construction is endemic to the book as a whole. Pearl has created an interesting little simulacrum of Boston, complete with wind-up publishers, police officers, and some Irish discrimination every second page. But it's a surface world; scratch that surface, and there's little of interest beneath it. Neither the characters nor the story drew me in, gripped me, and made me want to read more. The journey, in this case, was a disappointment. However, the destination was still a pleasant place to end up.

The redeeming aspect of The Last Dickens is thematic. Mysteries, publishing, and poppies aside, Pearl manages to capture the atmosphere of a time when people hung on the every word of one man, Mr. Charles Dickens. He conveys the extraordinary lengths to which people will go to discover—or to conceal—Dickens' last words and the allure of a literary mystery. In the final chapter, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow makes a little author-inspired speech:

I sometimes think, dear Mr. Osgood, that all proper books are unfinished. They simply have to feign completion for the convenience of the public. If not for publishers, no authors would ever reach the end. We would have all writers and no readers. So you mustn't shed a tear for Drood. No, there is much to envy about it—I mean that each reader will imagine his or her ideal ending for it, and every reader will be happy with their own private finale in their mind. It is in a truer state, perhaps, than any other work of its kind, however large we print those words, The End. And you have made the best of it!

It's a wonderful, very true speech, and one you can tell Pearl has been waiting to spring on us from the beginning of the book. So what now? Should I feel vindicated that my original position, that the mystery of how Drood ends is immaterial? Should I feel angry or cheated that I've been dragged through a mystery populated by flimsy historical recreations only to have what I already know flung back into my face? I could, but no good would come of it. That ship has sailed. All that's left for me to do now is to conclude that Pearl's heart is in the right place. He's got some good messages. But his execution is lacking. Personally, I think the premise was his undoing, but your mileage may vary.

Just remember the moral of the story: if you don't like the end, you can always make your own up! (I'm pulling for a sequel in which we find out Dickens didn't die but faked his own death and fled to Australia to join a carnival.)
Profile Image for Kim.
584 reviews13 followers
January 12, 2020
The Last Dickens is a novel by Matthew Pearl published in 2009. The first problem I had with the book was with that year 2009. I don't often read books from years beginning with the number 2, and when I do I find I'm not very good at it. Paying attention that is. There were none of those long sentences with lots of words that Dickens wrote in his novels, this one was about him, not by him. Which brings me to my next thought on the whole thing and that is while I should be reading books written by Charles Dickens I should probably not be reading any about him. Well, I've read some biographies about him, some I liked some I didn't, but this isn't a biography. It's a mystery with him as one of the main characters.

It's been a few weeks since I read the novel and since my computer is on its death bed I haven't been able to keep up with my reviews so I'm not sure I can remember all I would have said at the time I read it, but here goes.

This book should have been split up, for me anyway. Some of the time we were in America with Dickens on his last trip here, most of the rest of the time it is after Dickens has died and we're with Forster and others searching for the rest of his last unfinished book. I wish somebody would find the rest of the novel, I would love to know where Edwin Drood is myself. Then upon occasion we are with Dickens's son in the Far East doing what I can't quite remember so it must not have been too terribly important. I did find Forster interesting and wondered often if he was really like that.

I wanted to like this book more than I did and you probably will like it more than I did. I guess I just would rather read Dickens than read about Dickens. That's all of a review I can give you typing on my phone, how anyone learns to do this using their thumbs is beyond me, it will be nice to some day have a computer I can use all my fingers to type with, but for now I'm on to the next book. Happy reading.
Profile Image for ruzmarì.
153 reviews65 followers
January 5, 2011
I wanted to like this novel, really I did. I love Dickens's novels and pretty much anything to do with Dickens, and I have an especial soft spot for Drood. But Pearl's novel left me cold. I kept trying to get more involved in the plot's nefarious twists and turns, and to appreciate his trademark authorial touches, including the subtle nod at recent Dickens scholars with a postcolonial lens ... but the novel kept rejecting my attempts at affection. It begins with a premise familiar to anyone who has read The D Case or Dickens's own novel Drood itself : speculation about the lost/unfinished ending to The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Pearl sweeps the reader up in Boston, transplants her to England and (natch) India, obliquely following (1) the American reading tours of an increasingly fatigued Charles Dickens, (2) one of Dickens's sons, stationed in India and who happens to be a highly decorated officer hot on the trail of an opium smuggler, (3) the travails of an independent publisher moonlighting as a literary private detective, and (4) a series of petty or hardened criminals (including a half-Chinese pirate with a golden cane, a few desperate New York journalists, a deranged aristocratic fan in love with Dickens [think Misery] and, of course, the real villains : a soulless rival publishing house. Pearl's solution to the Drood question is interesting, but worked out in a way that feels purely formulaic rather than compelling.

There is so much that could have made this novel really great, and instead it was just so-so. Sorry, Mr. Pearl, but in order to pull off a tour de force of this order, you need to be Dickens himself.
Profile Image for Steffi.
976 reviews204 followers
November 20, 2019
Es geht um den Bostoner Verlag Fields, Osgood & Co., der die Veröffentlichungsrechte an Dickens Roman Das Geheimnis des Edwin Drood erworben hat und nach Dickens’ Tod recherchiert, ob es Hinweise zu dem geplanten Ausgang der Geschichte gibt. Dabei erfährt der Leser nicht nur allerhand zum Konkurrenzkampf mit dem New Yorker Harper-Verlag, der mehr am Profit als an der Literatur interessiert ist (der Konflikt Verleger-Persönlichkeiten vs. Kapitalisten wirkt sehr aktuell), sondern auch über Dickens’ (zweite) Lesereise in die USA im Jahr 1867 und seinen letzten Wohnort bei Rochester. Ärgerlich ist auch hier, dass scheinbar alle davon ausgehen, dass nur John Jasper der Mörder gewesen kann.
Spannend sind die realen Institutionen, Ereignisse und Personen, die in den Roman eingeflochten werden, so auch Oliver Wendell Holmes, von dem ich zuletzt in Tess Gerritsens Roman Leichenraub las. Erzählerisch eher gutes Mittelmaß.
Profile Image for Kike.
258 reviews52 followers
November 10, 2019
Interesante y emocionante, los personajes perfectamente definidos y el misterio no te deja soltar el libro. Aparte de ser un thriller bien escrito, es un bello homenaje a Charles Dickens.
Lo único que le sobra creo es la historia de la india, todo lo demás perfecto.
Profile Image for Stephen the Librarian.
125 reviews3 followers
February 8, 2017
The works of Charles Dickens have stood the test of time since the 19th century, including his final, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Published as a serial, TMoED kept adoring readers eagerly awaiting the next installment. Yet, when Dickens perished from a stroke midway through the novel, the world was aghast at losing its most popular author, the public left frantically yearning to know the author’s intentions. Was Edwin Drood murdered—and if so, who was the killer? Was it Edwin's uncle, John Jasper, cathedral precenter and opium addict, who nursed a malevolent passion for his nephew’s fiancée, Rosa Bud? Yeah, most likely, but then we'll never know...or will we?

Penned by the compelling and capable Matthew Pearl, The Last Dickens is the third in the bestselling author’s literary trinity, impeccably aligned with his two prior novels, The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow. Like its predecessors The Last Dickens is an intriguing meld of bookish history and thrilling mystery set in the distant past and embroiling shadowy facets of real-life literary giants. As in his previous efforts, Pearl takes certain liberties with historical fact and (for the most part) triumphantly sculpts a splendid mystery for us, delicately moulding it with the scandals of the era.

When news of Charles Dickens’s untimely death reaches the office of struggling American publisher, Fields & Osgood—and trusted clerk Daniel Sand is found murdered on the Boston docks after being dispatched to collect Dickens’s unfinished manuscript—junior publisher James Ripley Osgood embarks on a transatlantic quest to unearth the novel’s ending, thereby saving his esteemed business and revealing Daniel’s killer. Pearl skillfully captures all the customs and etiquette of the Victorian era, all the curios and claptrap, adding a young divorcee to the mix, Rebecca Sand, a competent bookkeeper at Fields & Osgood (and older sister of the deceased clerk) who joins Osgood on his perilous journey. Readers find themselves on familiar romantic ground as hero Osgood and heroine Rebecca exchange shy glances whilst squaring off with exotic villains, opium addicts, hardnosed actors, literary sharks, and competing members of Dickens’s inner circle.

Very similar in style, atmosphere, and pacing to Pearl’s period thriller The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens is as engrossing as it is educational, a history lesson finely blended with a succulent mystery. Much like The Poe Shadow’s treatment of Poe’s detective character of C. Auguste Dupin, Pearl employs TMoED to craft a thinly-disguised fictionalization of the story of a young man from the neighborhood of Gads Hill Place, Dickens's country home.

While structurally awkward, the flashback sequences of Dickens’s backbreaking 1867 American tour embodied my favorite sections of the novel—not just because Dickens himself is featured as a character, but rather the superstar author’s treatment at the hands of 1860s American public precisely resonates with contemporary mores and the nascency of celebrity worship; as evidenced in the manner wherein the feverish crowds on the docks await the arrival of the author’s ship, the harried fans outside the theaters, and the passionate stalkers harassing Dickens every step of the way. It's worth noting that the character of Louisa Parr Barton and the theft of Dickens’s diary are based on actual persons and events.

Unexpectedly, one of my favorite aspects of the novel is Pearl’s fascinating portrait of the 19th-century publishing industry. The Boston-based Fields & Osgood, Dickens' exclusive publisher in the States, representing the good guys who find themselves in a precarious position after the writer's death, and being pitted against the predatory Harper Brothers of New York. Publishing houses fighting to stay afloat and international copyright laws lacking refinement, thereby giving rise to literary pirates dubbed bookaneers—Pearl fashions a palpable underbelly of the publishing world that is suspenseful and yet laced in historical truth.

Alas, the novel isn’t without its shortcomings. The India subplot surrounding Dickens’s son Frank, a supervisor with the Bengal Mounted Police and a keen interest in the opium trade, kick-starts the novel and while initially promising, it ultimately fails to pay off. While these chapters grippingly depict the rampant circulation of opium and the British Empire's shamefaced involvement, they never really tie back to the main plot and by the end of the novel felt more like an afterthought. What’s more, Frank Dickens’s absent relationship with his distinguished father further distances the India storyline from everything else.

Comparatively, The Last Dickens falls short of the high bar set by Dan Simmons’s towering masterpiece, Drood, which also explored Dickens's incomplete novel from a very dissimilar lens. It may be unfair, though, to equate the two novels (both of which were published in 2009), particularly since the historical figures of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, as featured in Simmons’s book, are less rooted in historical reality. Moreover, while both books explore the common theme of opium—and a little bit with the mesmerism—Simmons does so more heavily and the result is a phantasmagoric journey into London’s dark underworld with all the makings of a gothic fantasy, jam-packed with the fruits of its author's laborious research.

While not a perfect story, The Last Dickens is atmospheric and cleverly plotted. There’s even an amusing interview between author Pearl and character Osgood in the trade paperback edition. If intelligent, well researched, deftly written mysteries are what you seek, then look no further.
Profile Image for Karyl.
1,761 reviews122 followers
January 20, 2011
On June 9, 1870, Charles Dickens died suddenly at his home. He was only 58. At the time of his death, he was hard at work at a novel called The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but he'd only finished half the novel. This book follows his American publisher, James R. Osgood, who believed the last half of Drood had been written before Dickens's death, and the race to find it before more unsavory characters got their hands on the manuscript. The synopsis of the book makes it sound right up my alley -- a mystery about an unfinished book? Written by one of English literature's foremost authors? Set in Victorian times?? Yes, please, to all of the above!

Yet this book left me wanting. To me, it read like Matthew Pearl was hoping to make it into a screenplay. The action scenes felt like they were written to appeal to fans of shoot 'em up, blow 'em up, movie-goers. I mean, kill the bad guy by dropping a steam-powered elevator on him and cause massive gas explosions at the same time, just to make sure he is really and truly dead?

I still haven't figured out why Pearl included the scenes in India with Dickens's son either. That's not quite fleshed out, and detracted from the novel.

Pearl's writing style leaves a lot to be desired. He seems to be fond of the cliche, which is quite a shame. While reading this I felt as though he could write no better than I -- and I am not author. His pacing was extremely slow, and I found myself doing other things instead of wanting to pick up this book and devour it. It's really a shame because while it's clear that Pearl did a great deal of research to write this book, and because his characterizations are so wonderful, there's just no compelling reason to READ this novel. This novel could have been truly great, but Pearl's writing style gets in the way.
Profile Image for Keith.
275 reviews5 followers
February 26, 2012
As historical novels go I think this one was particularly fascinating in how intricately the events of the story’s fictional characters are interwoven with the actual historical events of Dickens life. James Ripley Osgood, the junior partner in the American publishing firm representing Charles Dickens, sets out in pursuit of clues to the conclusion of Dickens final novel which was left only half finished at the time of his death. The completion of the novel is of great import to his American publishers because Dickens is so popular a celebrity that its publication stands between financial success and possible ruin for the firm. Murder and mayhem lie along the path of his quest from Boston to London and back. Matthew Pearl has caught the flavor of the language and manners of the Victorian age, revealing its seamy underbelly of poverty, social injustice and drug addiction, as it attempted to maintain a class system that justified its continuation. Although Victorian authors from Dickens to Arthur Conan Doyle have given insight into the era, Pearl’s more modern perspective is particularly keen. This is a real mystery thriller with twists and turns that keep you guessing until the end.
Profile Image for Ann Sloan.
94 reviews21 followers
July 31, 2013
In a way, every piece of fiction is a mystery – How is it going to turn out? What will happen to the characters? If the reader doesn’t care, then the author hasn’t succeeded in writing a good book. The author must create a degree of eagerness and anxiety in the reader to keep him (or her) turning the pages. The anxiety in The Last Dickens is ideal for the bibliophile: what happens when we lose the voices that tell us what happens next? It’s June 1870, and Charles Dickens suffers a stroke midway through his serial The Mystery of Edwin Drood, leaving the story a genuine whodunit that will never and hasn’t ever been solved. How will readers cope without knowing how the book ends? And how will Dickens’s American publisher, the financially struggling firm of Fields, Osgood & Company, survive without the profits from his book?

I like to think of this as the third entry in a trilogy. Matthew Pearl’s first novel, The Dante Club blended history and mystery in a story featuring Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and post-Civil War Boston. In his second novel, The Poe Shadow, Pearl re-created Edgar Allan Poe and life in mid-nineteenth-century Baltimore. In this novel, he presents a neatly written, meticulously detailed, and meticulously researched tale.

The firm’s junior partner, James Osgood (an historical figure), attempts to solve the real-life mystery that is proving fatal for several characters. The amiable, ordinary Osgood makes a believable man of letters. As a man of action he is an adorable fantasy, given to pedantic lecturing. In his efforts to find Dickens’s document, Osgood places his trust in a shady character to track dangerous clues through the city’s opium dens, he confides to his bookkeeper and sidekick, Rebecca Sand, this explanation: “I thought of consulting with Scotland Yard to secure a police escort, yet it would likely drive away the very man who can guide me. I am a publisher, Miss Sand. I know what it means. It means I must find a way, very often, to believe in people who believe in something else — something I often may not be inclined toward in the least.” He’s more stuffy than swashbuckling, but is able to hold his own with the bad guys.

Unfortunately, Pearl juggles too many narrative threads for a novel this length. He is forced to resort to exposition at inopportune moments, throwing off the pace. The subplot set in India and centered on Dickens’s son Frank, a supervisor in the Bengal Mounted Police with his own interest in the opium trade, is a promising gesture but never pays off. Pearl knows his Dickens, undoubtedly better than many of his readers do, and his focus on the author’s dark late period is valuable to those who would like to know about Dickens, the man. The problem is that by putting “the Chief” in his book (which he does through a series of flashbacks to the author’s final, backbreaking American tour), Pearl introduces a writer he can’t match, on any level. Of course, few writers could.
An intriguing element of the book is the historical struggle among publishers extant at the time; some of which still exist intact, some of which have been altered, and some of which are extinct. Fields, Osgood & Co. know that if they retain exclusive rights to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, it could mean the difference between a successful publishing company and capitulating to their chief New York rival, Harper & Brothers. There is also a role for the trade circular that would come to be known as Publishers Weekly.

One of the pleasures of reading Pearl comes from enjoying the skillfully detailed 19th-century settings he constructs. In The Last Dickens, he recreates a world in which there were no international copyright laws, Andrew Johnson’s impeachment loomed, and steam elevators improved travel in office buildings. He also gives a contemporary feel to his works by reminding us that the 19th century in which the drug trade, organized crime, and urban blight loomed large and were less genteel than we tend to imagine.

It’s enticing to think that somewhere in some old, unexamined library or bookstore out there is a pile of missing manuscript pages in Dickens’s hand that would unravel the mystery of Edwin Drood. There have been several attempts by miscellaneous authors over the many years since Dickens’s death to complete the book – in the theater, film, radio, and novel. But none of them have the voice of Dickens himself.

Historical Epilogue for The Last Dickens:
Some facts behind characters and elements of The Last Dickens:
• After Fields's retirement, James Ripley Osgood thrived for several years. The terrible Boston fire of 1872 destroyed some of the steel plates owned by the publishing firm. The following year, Osgood was forced to sell all three of his magazines. Facing steep financial problems, Osgood agreed to a merger with Houghton & Hurd. Later in life, Osgood moved to England to work for Harper & Bros. as their London agent. He died in 1892 in London, where he is buried.

• After Fields retired, he used his various experiences to write his memoirs of literary figures. He also spoke on the lecture circuit. He died in Boston in 1881 and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

• Fletcher “Major” Harper retired in 1875. He died in 1877 at his home in New York and is buried at Greenwood cemetery. He was the last survivor of the original Harper brothers.

• Following seven years of service in the Bengal police, Francis Dickens continued his chosen profession in North America, receiving an appointment to the North-West Mounted Police in Canada beginning in 1874. Francis participated in several important battles and was promoted to Inspector in 1880. He died in 1886 while traveling in Moline, Illinois, where he is buried.

• Approximately ten years after Dickens's death, one of Dickens's sons, Charley, co-wrote a theatrical production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood with a new ending, which he claimed was in part based on the authority of the information his father had shared with him. The play has to this day never been produced. The manuscript is at the Charles Dickens Museum in London. (Charley was originally depicted as a character in The Last Dickens, but eliminated in a later draft)

• Years after Dickens's death, a collector discovered a sheaf of his papers in Dickens's unique shorthand. It was believed the bundle of papers could be the ending of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Turning to Henry Dickens, one of Dickens's sons, to help decipher, the papers were decoded—but apparently had nothing to do with Drood.

• According to a literary historian in the early twentieth century, James Osgood wrote a manuscript detailing his experiences as a publisher, including extensively about his time with Charles Dickens during the American tour. This manuscript has never been located. Osgood had left it in the possession of A. V. S. Anthony, an engraver, at whose death passed it on to his widow. Tracking their descendants leads to actor Anthony Perkins, whose father was named James Ripley Osgood Perkins after the publisher and who also had a son named Osgood Perkins. If the manuscript still exists, it does not appear to be registered to a library or archive and may still be held somewhere as a private possession (http://www.matthewpearl.com/dickens/e...).
Profile Image for May.
779 reviews71 followers
August 25, 2023
Intriguing premise. However, much of this work fell flat for me. Some threads actually feel as unfinished as the Dickens novel depicted.
I appreciate that this was well researched, but it just doesn’t come together for me.
Profile Image for Emma.
210 reviews18 followers
May 27, 2018
Siguiendo en la línea de La sombra de Poe, la historia se centra en Charles Dickens y su último libro. Pero, en comparación con el de Poe, me ha gustado mucho más este. La lectura sigue siendo ágil en la mayoría de puntos, pero creo que le cuesta arrancar un poco, pero, en cuanto lo hace, uno se engancha a la trama. También contiene los toques oscuros que tanto me gustan y la historia me ha encantado, me ha parecido todo bastante coherente y en algún momento me ha sorprendido con el giro de la trama.
Los personajes me gustan mucho, destacando a Osgood y a Rebeca, que se vea cómo era la mujer divorciada en aquella época me ha parecido original.
¡La reseña completa en el blog!

920 reviews27 followers
August 23, 2012
(August) 1.5* I really didn't like this book at all! It was, IMO, a convoluted mess! There were parts that were pointless, parts that made no sense,and the ending - huh? I still am not sure I get the whys and wherefores of the mystery. I'm not a mystery reader as a general rule, but still -it was really confusing as to what exactly the "bad guys" wanted, why they did what they did. The entire parts that took place in India were poitless as was most of the storyline w/Dickens still alive. I found most of it painful to read and would not recommend this to anyone! CnC review: 2.75*
Profile Image for Leslie.
Author 32 books729 followers
March 5, 2018
A friend pressed this book into my hands as we headed out his door on the way to a week at the beach, and I loved it! Pearl imagines what Dickens' intent for the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood might have been, and how one intrepid American publisher, a historical figure, might have gone about discovering it. Filled with wit and imagination, playful language, Dickensian characters and Victorian drama, set in Boston, London, and elsewhere. Not the same Dickens as in the recent movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, but that's okay; genius can contain contradictions. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Benjamin Thomas.
1,966 reviews282 followers
December 30, 2019
Boston, 1870. Charles Dickens has just died but alas, only the first 6 installments of his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood have been published so far in England. Young James Osgood, junior partner in a publishing firm in Boston which has the exclusive rights to publish Dickens in America sends a trusted clerk, Daniel Sand, to the docks to pick up the existing manuscript pages when they arrive from England. Unfortunately, Daniel’s body is discovered in what appears to be death by opium misadventure. Osgood, along with his administrative assistant (and Daniel’s sister) Rebecca embark on a quest to discover any additional chapters of “Drood” that may exist. Along the way, they also hope to find the real cause of Daniel’s death, even if it means uncovering a murder.

This is my first novel by Matthew Pearl but will not be my last. I am always drawn to books about books or authors and this one really hit several of my sweet spots. It’s a literary novel but not in any way boring. At its core, it is pure historical mystery with quite a bit of action and danger. There are a couple of flashback sections where we get to have Dickens himself as an active character as he performs a book tour of eastern US cities just two years prior to his death. I learned a lot about him as well as the cut-throat nature of the book publishing business in that era. Of particular interest are what the author calls the “bookaneers” who are basically literary pirates who try to steal manuscripts for competing publishers.

The novel is very well researched with accurate depictions of the cities, times, and historical personages we encounter, especially the events during Dickens’ American tour. Even our protagonist, Osgood, was a real person. But beyond that, the plot is nicely balanced with history, American and England settings, opium dens, mystery sleuthing, perilous action and a budding romance that keeps the stakes high.

I’m already looking for my next Matthew Pearl book to read.
Profile Image for Eden.
539 reviews220 followers
January 11, 2019
DNF @37%

I’m still not very good at DNFing books I don’t like because I’m usually the type to push through even when I don’t like something. I’m hoping 2019 brings a stronger Eden who is able to say no and BE OKAY WITH IT.

The summary of this book sounds fantastic. Mystery concerning a book and the writing community? Count me in! Or not… I did like the idea of this book and how history was used. I honestly don’t know a lot about Charles Dickens and have only read part of Oliver Twist, so learning more about him was cool! It was the writing and execution of the plot that had me nodding off and pushing this book away.

It took me 50 pages to figure out who the main characters were supposed to be. Osgood is the main character I would say, but when I first met him I thought he was just a stepping stone to getting to the protagonist. That shouldn’t be! They’re also trying to do some romance thing that I just can’t deal with. The characters feel like they have no CHARACTER. How? What? Why?

I kind of skimmed the rest of the book to see if things would start to make sense. All in all, I don’t think I missed out on much by DNFing this.
Profile Image for piCtrufa.
155 reviews1 follower
February 12, 2023
¿Por dónde empiezo a reseñar este libro?

Claramente me ha gustado, es un libro que, a ratos, me ha tenido muy enganchada y a ratos se me ha hecho tedioso.

El libro está genial escrito, personajes muy bien delineados y la trama principal engancha y te mantiene con una curiosidad plena. Pero creo que le sobran unas 200 págs. Las subtramas (como la de la India) se me hacían inacabables, pasaba la hoja y me decepcionaba al ver que el capítulo no acababa...También tiene que ver que no he logrado conectar con los pjs, el único que me atraía era Dickens pero iba con un miedo horrible porque me he comido más de un spoiler de sus obras (mala mía por no haber leído antes más Dickens) mientras leía su trama.

Igualmente, el libro tiene frases preciosas, relaciones magníficas entre personajes y un final trepidante que, todos sabemos cómo acaba, pero la forma que tuvo Matthew de hacernos llegar ahí es extraordinaria. La investigación por parte del autor hace que dudes entre lo que es verdad y lo que es ficción. Desde luego es un buen libro para leer tranquilamente y sin prisas =)

Segundo libro de los elegidos para el reto de pendientes de este año acabado ✅
Profile Image for Juan Carlos.
424 reviews16 followers
January 29, 2020
Reseña en mi blog: "El blog de Juan Carlos". Cuidado al leer la reseña porque contiene Spoiler
Profile Image for Annette Lyttle.
14 reviews5 followers
March 17, 2013
From beginning to end, The Last Dickens, by Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow, remains an idea with great potential that suffers in the execution. I found the structure of the story, which shifts from the story’s present in which Dickens has just died to a recent past in which he is touring America for the last time, difficult to follow (and what is the India thing with Dickens’s son doing popping in and out of the narrative?).

The book has lots of very promising elements. I like literary mysteries, unlikely heroes, Charles Dickens, and stories filled with interesting historical details. London (my favorite city in the world) and Boston (right up there on my list of favorites) are perfect settings for such stories. The protagonist, Boston book publisher James Ripley Osgood, is a historical person and very unlikely hero who interacts with a mixed cast of historical and fictional characters in a story that mixes historical and fictional events. Perfect, right? But Pearl just doesn’t deliver the goods.

The story is a mystery about a mystery: it posits that Dickens’s last, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, is a thinly-disguised fictionalization of the story of a young man from the neighborhood of Dickens’s country home. But Dickens has died with the novel only half-finished, and Osgood, partner in a struggling Boston publishing firm that is Dickens’s authorized American publisher, must try to find any additional manuscript pages Dickens might have finished before he died. He has to contend with dangers that range from annoying to life-threatening from other folks who want to beat him to the manuscript (which may or may not exist).

Osgood is a decent guy, if a bit stiff, but I didn’t find him believable as the semi-action hero Pearl tries to turn him into toward the end. The other characters should be interesting, but come off flat or exaggerated – and they all kinda talk the same. The insights into the cutthroat world of publishing in the latter half of the 19th century are interesting, but the main publisher-villain and the main opium-trade-villain both pretty much talk us to death. The prose is in need of an editor with a ruthless attitude toward adverbs and extraneous words, and who will whisper sweet nothings in the author’s ear like, “Show, don’t tell.”

It should have been a good story, but when I put it down it never drew me back to it with that irresistible desire to find out what happens next. By about the halfway point, I was reading to get it over with – while still hoping it might get better. It’s always disappointing to find a promising premise that doesn’t manage to deliver. Reading this book was like being a die-hard baseball fan whose team just can’t put together a win. I kept rooting for the story to make a base hit, even when all hope was lost.

Pearl does throw in a lot of Boston and London atmosphere and interesting historical details (like the description of the “moving parlor” elevator in a Boston building), but too often the detail interferes with the story. For instance, the murderous bad guy is literally on Osgood’s heels when Osgood enters the moving parlor in an effort to escape him. The action stops dead as we learn about the elevator; once it picks up again, the momentum is gone.

Read the book for its interesting historical details about 19th century Boston, London, Kent, the publishing industry, and travel. But don’t expect a page-turner that will keep you up past your bedtime.
Profile Image for Nikki in Niagara.
3,938 reviews128 followers
October 3, 2009
Reason for Reading: I'm always interested in Victorian historical fiction plus I've read two other books this year that concerned Charles Dickens: 'Drood' by Dan Simmons and 'Wanting' by Richard Flanagan. Therefore I thought why not add a third to the mix especially since this concentrated on Dickens last novel as did 'Drood'.

Comments: Dickens has just died leaving his last book "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" only half-finished. But one of the partners of his American publishing house James Osgood is certain he may be able to find clues to Dickens' intentions for the story's ending if he travels to England which leads him into a much deeper, darker and dangerous mystery than he had counted on. The book also flashes back a few years to a plot line that follows Dickens' final book tour of America and the trials and tribulations that accompanied him on that last trip. And finally, the book follows a third less frequent plot line of Frank Dickens, Charles' son, who is an officer stationed in India. The time period being consistent with the recent death of his father.

This is a much researched and historically accurate tale as far as Dickens and his family and acquaintances go. Many small real life incidents of his life are included which adds authenticity to the period. I found the characters and the setting to be spot on with regards to Victorian attitudes and ambiance. While the book is populated fiercely with a motley crew of characters, two do stand out as the main characters and I found both James and Rebecca to be both truly believable and completely compelling. Rebecca never stepped out of her place as a woman of her times but as a divorced woman working as a bookkeeper she took no nonsense from anyone as regards her sex. I loved her stinging, yet witty remarks, that kept her completely within her confines as a Victorian woman.

The plot follows many clues and red herrings sending James and (sometimes) Rebecca all over London's shadier sides and to the East End and finally to the dregs of opium dens and thieves quarters. While certainly an interesting read that did keep me reading, I found the pacing slow. It was a book I could put down and not be in a hurry to pick up again. Not because I wasn't liking it but just that it didn't have that certain intensity to it. The ending does increase in pace and there is a typical high energy rush in the final chapters as the mystery is solved, which is all rather cleverly done on the author's part.

One thing I did find fascinating was the description of the the cut-throat world of American publishing at the time. The underhanded dealings, the nefarious goings on, the blatant disregard for international copyright, and in particular the way in which the Harper Brothers were portrayed. If the beginnings of Harper & Bros. and the characters of the brothers themselves have been portrayed realistically here an historical fiction on their family would be an amazing read.

This book would be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a good literary mystery but I also think it will satisfy all the people who did not like 'Drood' by Dan Simmons very much because of the supernatural elements. Now I loved that other book, but for those of you who didn't, I think you'll love 'The Last Dickens' more than I did.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,423 reviews246 followers
January 2, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Irene.
207 reviews
July 25, 2023
Pearl brings us into the world of Dickens and publishing during his life. Such incredible research!
Profile Image for Sterlingcindysu.
1,393 reviews51 followers
February 9, 2017
Pearl packs so much in one of his novels--tons of research, several plot lines and tons of description. The only complaint I have with his novels is probably one of age: when I pick up the book after a day away, I forget who was who, or where they were, or what decade it is. It's easily remedied by re-reading a page or 2, but it's always good to read one of his books in as few sittings as possible.

I haven't read much Dickens. I have another historical novel Girl in a Blue Dress in my TBR list but no Dickens. Really, I think I've only read A Christmas Carol. So this is about The Mystery of Edwin Drood and how publishers, English and American, legit and not are trying to figure out the ending. If only Dickens had told Queen Victoria how it ended when he offered!


I read The Last Bookaneer before this one, so a few of those characters were familiar to me.
Profile Image for Peter.
486 reviews43 followers
January 18, 2014
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl is a book I really wanted to like. Victorian Literature is my favourite genre, Dickens my favourite author and the mystery that surrounds the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood one of the great questions of Dickens' scholars. Sadly, when I found myself reading The Last Dickens I felt more and more like exclaiming "please sir, I want more."

Matthew Pearl has done his homework in this work of historical fiction. The characters of Dickens, Forster, Dolby and others are faithfully drawn, and the events, places and incidents are engaging and insightfully conjured, yet somehow the parts stumble and trip over one another. For example, while opium plays a key role in both the unfinished novel and the events of Pearl's novel, the events with Dickens' son and the opium trade in the far east seem more gratuitous than essential. The sections of the novel that cover the hunt for the possibility that the remainder of the novel, or hints about it, exist are engaging, but rather wooden. Pearl's insights into the publishing trade of the nineteenth century and the struggle to gain proper copy write for a novelist's works in America are dealt with effectively, and yet each separate issue seems to remain that, separate, rather than woven into a continuous arch of the story.

For me this book was actually the tale of two styles. One was the writing of a mystery story which did work to a degree. The other was the writing of an historical novel which was, for the most part, engaging. For me, ultimately, however, the two separate parts did not meld or blend together.
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