Review

The Last Dickens

by Matthew Pearl

Charles Dickens was the type of author who “even those who
never in their life read any novels, would read his.” His
stories have endured the test of time since the mid-1800s. As THE
LAST DICKENS opens, the latest story from the novelist’s pen
was eagerly awaited by the public. Published as a serial, THE
MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD kept people hanging until the next
installment. But when he died with it unfinished, it left readers
in a frenzy to know what he intended. Had Edwin Drood survived in
the end, or would his body be found somewhere?

In 1870, the year of Dickens’s death, Boston publishers
Fields, Osgood & Co. had the only American rights to print the
works of Charles Dickens. Often, that legal right meant very little
back then, since, whenever a publisher expected a manuscript,
literary thieves called bookaneers would hang around the docks or
roam the streets, ready to pilfer whatever they could get their
hands on. Even at the public readings, these bookaneers, having
schooled themselves at shorthand, would steal the words right from
Dickens’s mouth.

So it was that Daniel Sand, a delivery boy from Fields &
Osgood, ended up being chased down by such a thief. Young Daniel
was a trusted employee when he died, leaving his sister Rebecca, a
bookkeeper at the publishing house, deep in mourning. For James
Osgood, Daniel had also been a promising lad, one he held out much
hope for, so the stories of drug use playing a part in his death
hits Osgood hard. Barely able to believe it, he goes in search of
the truth. And along with his search for what really happened to
Daniel, he hopes to find more of THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD,
praying with great fervor that Dickens had left new chapters, or at
least some notes. Anything.

Having exhausted his few leads in Boston, Osgood’s quest
takes him across the seas to England, where he secures a room in
the Falstaff Inn across the road from the gates to Gadshall Place,
Dickens’s estate. He can’t help but wonder: Did Charles
Dickens glean ideas for his stories here in the English
countryside? Could he have written them based on events of the day,
things he read about, people he encountered?

The streets of London turn unkind to Osgood. He finds himself
facing great peril, realizing too late that he may have
underestimated the danger he has gotten into. But he worries less
for his personal safety than for Rebecca’s, for she has
accompanied him on his trip as his assistant. She has also winnowed
her way into his heart, whether he wishes to acknowledge it or not.
Osgood must keep a clear head and stay focused on his mission, for
the shady characters who seem to be following him have little value
for lives other than their own. As it becomes apparent that Dickens
likely stashed more of Edwin Drood somewhere, the tension ratchets
up to a fever pitch and the Americans must run for their lives.

Matthew Pearl, the internationally bestselling author of THE
DANTE CLUB and THE POE SHADOW, brings Charles Dickens to life as
wholly as Dickens brought Tiny Tim to life. Fans of the famous
writer will rejoice in the wealth of life details and trivia along
with the incredible period detail. THE LAST DICKENS is truly a
history lesson going hand in hand with a juicy mystery, as
entertaining as it is educational. You can’t help but come
away with the highly satisfying feeling that you rubbed shoulders
with literary giants.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 30, 2010

The Last Dickens
by Matthew Pearl

  • Publication Date: March 17, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 1400066565
  • ISBN-13: 9781400066568