To say that Matthew Pearl likes literature is an understatement. Many of his books are literary related in some way or another, making them really intriguing to me.
My first experience with Pearl was with the book THE LAST BOOKANEER which was a wonderful read, but more importantly it was different. I have also had THE DANTE CLUB on my radar for the better part of six years, so when this one came up for review I was stoked. So why haven’t I read THE DANTE CLUB you ask…..I have no idea.
Maybe it’s because it’s been on my TBR list for so long that I’ve forgotten about it as I keep adding new books or maybe it’s because I don’t own a copy of the first book. Whatever it is—when this book came up for review, I gave it a solid ‘hell ya’ to review!
The year is 1870. Five years after a series of Dante-inspired killings disrupted Boston, a man is found murdered in the public gardens of London with an enormous stone around his neck etched with a verse from the Divine Comedy. When more mysterious murders erupt across the city, all in the style of the punishments Dante memorialized in Purgatory, poet Christina Rossetti fears her brother, the Dante-obsessed artist and writer Gabriel Rossetti, will be the next victim.
Christina enlists poets Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson, and famous scholar Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, to assist in deciphering the literary clues. Together these unlikely investigators rush to unravel the secrets of Dante’s verses in order to find Gabriel and stop the killings. Racing between the shimmering mansions of the elite and the dark corners of London’s underworld, they descend further and further into the mystery. But when the true inspiration behind the gruesome murders is finally revealed, Christina realizes that the perpetrator has even bigger and more horrific plans than she had initially thought.
A dazzling tale of intrigue from the writer Library Journal calls “the reigning king of popular literary historical thrillers,” The Dante Chamber is a riveting adventure across London and through Dante. Expertly blending fact and fiction, Pearl gives us a historical mystery like no other, captivating and enthralling until the last page (summary from Goodreads).
So let’s get the obvious question out of the way first….this is the second in a series, having not read the first book did I feel lost? No. I did not. I see that a number of readers also commented that this book was a true standalone book and I would agree. Pearl did a great job at helping new readers navigate this new novel and filled in any of the gaps and questions from the first book in the series but again, if you haven’t read the first book do not feel like you need to go back and read it to enjoy this one.
For me, this book was more of a thinker book rather than a casual novel where you just read lightly and enjoy the story as it happens. This book makes you engage actively in the story and makes you think. The plot is basic yet the characters and narrative style are more tedious and it does take some time to process and get used to so be prepared to focus and pay attention throughout this book.
This kind of meandering style seems to be a signature of Pearl’s as I remember his style being similar in THE LAST BOOKANEER. He takes a lot of time to set readers up for the story and the characters. This approach might bore some readers but I encourage you to stay the course because this is a very interesting and well written book with a thrilling historical mystery!
This book is obviously heavy on the literary references as well, while you certainly don’t need to be an English Lit scholar to read this book, you will find lots of little references to love and endear this novel to you if you have a basic understanding of English Lit. I myself have a degree in English Lit so I loved all the little nuances of this novel because of that.
I think this book is the sort of book that appeals to a certain type of reader. While I think most audiences will find this book ‘great’ I think a more specific audience will find it ‘outstanding’. If you like sophisticated mysteries with a smart narration style, then you will likely rate this book as outstanding. I would say it came in at a 4.5 for me. While I loved the mystery itself and the ‘thinking’ piece, I found the first half of the book a little tedious….not enough to make me rate it lower than a 4 though. What bumped it to the 4.5 rating though was all the fun literary references in the book…..that’s Pearl’s bread and butter right there!
On a final note….the cover. OMG the cover! I am swooning at how perfect it is! I absolutely love it—much more than the cover of any of his other novels. Who ever designed this cover art had a wonderful vision and it captured my eye and made the book stand out even more!
- Kindle Edition, 368 pages
- Expected publication: June 5th 2018 by Penguin Press
- Review copy provided by: Publisher/author in exchange for an honest review
This book counts toward: NA
- Hosted by: NA
- Books for Challenge Completed: NA
Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5
Genre: Historical fiction, Victorian lit, mystery, gaslight fiction