The Last Dickens

Written by Matthew Pearl

Charles Dickens has just died, and his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, is unfinished. Boston publisher James R Osgood is expecting the next instalment, and has sent out his young clerk Daniel Sand to the docks to collect it. But the next time he sees Daniel he is lying dead on a morgue slab – was he running away, unlucky or murdered? The manuscript is missing and, in the face of pressure from New York publishers, James and Daniel’s sister Rebecca must go forth to find it, and discover more things besides.

This is a convoluted tale with more to say for it than just another historical murder mystery. Balancing out a somewhat far-fetched “penny dreadful” plot is the very real presence of Osgood himself, partner in an old established publishing company who is looking ruin in the face. The world of books and publishing is moving forwards rapidly to what we know today and it was this that stayed in my mind after the book had been read. A complicated subplot involving India, foggy London streets, the theatre, opium dens with sinister Fu Manchu Chinamen and all the panoply of Victorian mysteries can also be found in here, making it an interesting blend of the literary and genre fiction. Anne Perry it ain’t, but the Dickens theme and the author’s very palpable love of books makes it an interesting curiosity.