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The Dante Chamber


The Dante Chamber

Matthew Pearl’s debut novel, THE DANTE CLUB --- a terrific blend of history, literature and fiction --- found poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell seeking out a killer who has staged a series of murders throughout the Boston area that resemble some of Hell's punishments as found in Dante's “Inferno.” The book was a breakthrough hit and was extremely well-received.

Since then, Pearl has written successive stories involving literary giants like Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens and, in his previous effort THE LAST BOOKANEER, Robert Louis Stevenson. It is clear that quality literature and its historical context are what Pearl knows best, and it rings true in his intelligent and entertaining works of fiction.

With the release of his latest novel, THE DANTE CHAMBER, we are thrown back into a murder case that once again involves Dante’s writing. The book is set in 1870, and the principal action takes place in London. When a politician is discovered in a park, his neck broken in horrible fashion by a rock tied around it, the murder calls to mind the Boston killings just five years earlier. A verse from Dante's “Inferno” is found on the deceased gentleman.

"THE DANTE CHAMBER provides many thrills and continues to dig deeper into Dante's 'Inferno.'... Matthew Pearl expertly examines all of these sentiments, and the historical facts lend much credibility to his efforts."

Assisting in this effort is a new trio of writers/poets. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes returns, traveling from America to lend his assistance. He is joined by Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson, and all are brought together by another poet, Christina Rossetti, who fears that her brother, artist and writer Dante Gabriel Rossetti, may be the next victim. As other bodies are found throughout London, it is obvious that another Dante-inspired killer is at work as each of these killings resembles the different canticles in Dante's “Purgatory.

Rossetti had his name changed to reflect his adoration of Dante Alighieri, and this fact is not lost on those who are seeking to protect him. The novel is full of literary references, and it is a treat for those who love classic literature to see names like John Polidori, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron bandied about. As the search for the killer and his whereabouts intensifies, things take an unpredictable turn as law enforcement begins to believe that Rossetti himself may be responsible for these crimes. His overdramatic paintings and morbid poetry have made him the number one suspect.

Christina refuses to believe this, and spurs on her gathered trio of fellow poets to work harder to find the real killer and prove her brother's innocence. There is one chapter that outlines the complete text of an interrogation of Rossetti by the police, and it is chilling. Tennyson begins to buy into the possibility of his guilt, which divides the team and makes their mission that much more difficult.

THE DANTE CHAMBER provides many thrills and continues to dig deeper into Dante's “Inferno.” At one point, the chief investigator states, “Literature, like a parasite, can envelop a man's whole soul when weakened.” Does this allude to the fact that Rossetti may indeed be guilty, or is there something far more horrifying to be uncovered as they all dig deeper? Dante himself was ridiculed and shunned in his heyday, and labeled as arrogant for daring to try to capture the word of God as his own.

Matthew Pearl expertly examines all of these sentiments, and the historical facts lend much credibility to his efforts. In the novel’s postscript, he points out that the years 1870 and 1300 bore an identical calendar. 1300 was the year that Dante claimed he made his journey into the afterlife. Very interesting...

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 29, 2018

The Dante Chamber
by Matthew Pearl