Review: The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

Matthew Pearl has been on my radar for a while now. His books always look so intriguing since they are historic thrillers books…..about books…..but for some reason I just haven’t made it around to reading any of his books.

When this one came around to review I jumped at it since this was an author I have wanted to read.

The Last Bookaneer explores the dark side of publishing and the literary pirates who commandeered unpublished works by famous authors. Before 1890, loose copyright laws allowed for author’s works to be publish on the blackmarket so to speak, which ultimately gave rise to the bookaneers whose job it was to track down these unpublished gems at any cost.

With the new international copyright laws going into effect, the great bookaneer, Pen Davenport, embarks on one last adventure to recover an unpublished work by Robert Louis Stevenson on the exotic island of Samoa. But he needs help, Pen knows he can’t obtain the book alone so he enlists the help of his long time associate, Fergins.

Fergins is the narrator of the story and has enjoyed a nice, quiet life selling books…..and occasionally assisting Pen but he has never experienced anything like this. Before he knows it, he is whisked off onto a boat bound for the South Pacific with Pen to steal a manuscript worth thousands.

This novel was truly an adventure read. I loved that Pearl kept with the buccaneer spirit of the novel by making the manuscript one by Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island. I loved that the characters boarded a boat bound for a mysterious and exotic location and gave them the great title of ‘bookaneer’. Everything about the novel said ‘adventure’. It was superb!


There were times when Fergins kind of annoyed me as a narrator though. At times he seemed like such an unlikely companion to Pen and he had this tone of trepidation almost. I guess I expected more of an eccentric or strong narrator for Pen’s adventures because he was such an ‘over the top’ figure in my mind.

I personally know nothing about the publishing industry or copyright laws etc so that part of the book was equally intriguing and yet boring at the same time. Parts of it I found interesting and other parts I found less applicable but over all it was fine and necessary to the story.

There were parts in the book that I felt were a little sluggish, I hesitate to say ‘slow’ as the novel didn’t feel ‘slow’ but there were parts in the beginning and in the middle where I felt that the story got hung up in explaining the publishing industry too much instead of letting the story unfold, if that makes sense.

The ending though is what made the novel for me. The last few chapters I was quickly turning pages and enthralled in how everything came full circle. In that aspect Pearl doesn’t disappoint! The ending is fantastic.

I think what I liked best about this book is the adventure and exotic feel it had. In many ways it was familiar but the tone in which Pearl tells the story made you feel like you were reading something new and different….just like some of the great adventure novelists like Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson himself. I loved that the novel started in England and quickly exited to a new exotic location. The entire novel could easily have taken place in England but Pearl instead took readers out onto the high seas and a world away to tell his adventure tale, I loved that about this book.

The refreshing setting and unique way the story unfolded through the narrator made this book for me. I would be eager to read some of Pearls other books, I enjoy his easy writing style and the way he builds a story up and wrapping it up neatly at the end.

Clearly Pearl has researched his novels and there is something to be said for a well researched novel. The authors passion and dedication to their subject matter shows the reader how much they want to tell an accurate and intriguing story and with this he nailed it.

If you are looking for a little adventure, intrigue, mystery, both familiar and exotic then this would be a great place to start your summer reading!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

  • Kindle Edition, 400 pages
    Published April 28th 2015 by The Penguin Press
  • Review copy provided by: Publisher in exchange for an honest review

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 4 out of 5

Genre: Adventure lit, historic fiction, historic thriller, mystery

Memorable lines/quotes: 

The brilliant man must trust he is right even when adrift alone with his convictions.

Fear is the impassable gulf between the ordinary and the remarkable.


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