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  • Terrific historical mystery

    I will hold my hand up to two things at the start of this review. Firstly I am drawn to fiction based on other fiction, and secondly I'm not a big Dickens fan. For various reasons I just don't find him an interesting read. However I can't deny his impact as a novelist at a time when reading as a past time was only just reaching the masses. And so this book looked intriguing. Primarily set immediately after the death of the famous author, having completed exactly half of the installments of his latest book - The Mystery of Edwin Drood - James Osgood, the junior partner in his American publishers is sent to England to try to track down any other parts of the manuscript. However dark forces are afoot; there are two murders related to the Dickens papers in short order​ and Osgood is attacked on the ship to England. Clearly someone does not want any more of Drood to be published. Pearl has taken one of the greatest literary mysteries of all (there really are no clues about how Drood was supposed to conclude) and wrapped it in another fictional conundrum. He has clearly researched all of the details very well and uses real people - including Osgood and Dickens himself- along with fictional characters to tell the story. This gives the plot a certain solidity because so much of it is based in reality, with the fabricated parts showing through the cracks. The narrative moves between 1870 and Osgood's quest, to India at the same time where Frank Dickens (son of Charles) is investigating drug smuggling and to 1868 when Dickens is performing a reading tour of America. The plot is more-or-less highly plausible, just some coincidental points that require a little suspension of disbelief. The writing is excellent throughout, highly descriptive and particularly good at capturing the personalities of the characters (as would be expected given how carefully this has been researched). There are several action scenes at the book progresses and these are handled well. The villains are unmasked in classical style, gloating with our heroes apparently doomed only for the tables to be turned. Honestly I was expecting this to be reasonably interesting, highlighting aspects of Dickens' life and death with a little light murder mystery thrown in. In the end I would call this nothing less than a triumph and will definitely be looking to read more of Pearl's work. It's still not tempted me to read any Dickens, though...

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