The Last Dickens

Written by Matthew Pearl
Review by Rachel A Hyde

If you love reading Charles Dickens, this novel will be heaven-sent. If you’re not a big fan of Dickens, you will be after reading this novel. It’s that good and that much fun.

This erudite literary mystery has action and colorful characters galore, both historical and fictional, and includes flashbacks to Dickens’s tour of America in 1867 that demonstrate his extreme fame, the public’s love for him, and the protective love his confidants and entourage had for him as well. It’s a rousing story of murder, the opium trade, and the cutthroat 19th-century publishing business. With action taking place in India, England, Boston, and other U.S. sites, the author maintains seemingly distinct storylines. Just when you think they will never gel and make sense, Pearl brilliantly links them together.

The book revolves around Dickens’s unfinished last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. After Dickens’s death in 1870, his Boston publisher, James R. Osgood, sets off on a journey to England to find if rumored additional chapters really existed. He fights off opium dealers and thugs hired by rival publishers, gains the trust of Dickens’s family members, and tangles with a villain of mythic proportions. All this action might sound overblown, but it’s a literary romp through 19th century culture and its seamiest sides, not unlike much of Dickens’s work. It’s well written and chock full of details on Dickens and his times. This reviewer might question why the character of Osgood’s companion and love interest is relatively undeveloped, but this is a minor quibble. Highly recommended.