Historical Fiction: The Last Dickens, by Matthew Pearl

3.0 out of 5 stars The publisher

James Osgood is an up and comer in the world of 19th century Boston publishing. He’s in on Dickens’ farewell tour to the US, which involves not only dramatic performances but also some treachery on the part of the famous author’s fans. After Dickens dies, he’s posted to London on behalf of his firm, with the express purpose of discovering what the author might have intended for the conclusion of his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It comes to pass that the story was based upon some factual incidents involving the opium trade and some of its English victims. In the course of investigating the last days of Charles Dickens, James Osgood is caught up in a cutthroat conspiracy.

Cut and dried, this is a good plot. In its published version, however, it’s a convoluted, often confusing plot with many extraneous digressions. Whether this be the fault of author or editor, I don’t rightly know, but it is definitely a fault. Even the “love interest” falls rather flat, never having any life injected into it. The Last Dickens contains interesting passages about the cult that grew up around the best selling novelist of his time. But it takes a lot of perseverance to winnow out those nuggets.

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