Friday, October 16, 2009

Review: The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl (& A Giveaway)

In a Dickens story, readers were not asked to aspire to a higher class or to hate other classes than their own but to find the humanity and the humane in all. That is what made him the world’s most famous author.
[pg 33]

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl
Random House, 2009
Crime Fiction; 389 pgs

Starting a review is always a difficult task for me. I come up with ideas and end up dismissing them on second or third thought. In regards to this review, should I begin with the fact that this is my first Matthew Pearl novel? I have wanted to read his books for some time now but it took a book tour for me to finally pick one up and give it a try. This seems to be something I have been doing quite a bit--joining a book tour as an excuse to read a book I’ve wanted to read but haven’t managed to yet. I very nearly passed this one by. I wasn’t sure I should take on another tour so soon after the last one. And I figured The Poe Shadow would be more up my alley. I have a thing for Edgar Allan Poe.

Charles Dickens is fine and all. I have only read one of his books (as if I have read all that much by Poe!). I read Oliver Twist years ago and loved every word of it. I fell quite hard for dear Oliver. I confess to being a fan of the musical too. Don’t get me started! Whenever I hear someone say “I’ll do anything,” I break out in song. Let’s not get started on picking pockets. I have seen a million different versions of A Christmas Carol, but I know that doesn’t really count as reading the book.

Charles Dickens is one of those authors whose writing I want to explore more. I bought a huge omnibus a couple years back of some of his work, but, like so many other books I own, it is still waiting its turn. I haven’t managed to get to many of the classics this year, unfortunately. I do love a good classic. Matthew Pearl’s The Last Dickens appealed to me on many levels. Its tie to Charles Dickens certainly played a part in that as did the fact that it is a mystery set in the nineteenth century that takes the reader into the bowels of the cutthroat publishing world.

The novel is divided into three narratives. Upon his death in 1870, Charles Dickens appeared to only have completed half of his tale, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was being published in serial format by American publisher Fields, Osgood & Company in The Atlantic Monthly. Daniel Sand, a clerk with the publishing company, is killed in a bus accident while on assignment to secure the last installments of Charles Dickens’ novel. His death is just the first in a string of unexplained incidents that raise questions for Publisher James Ripley Osgood. With the security of his firm hanging over his head, Osgood sets out to uncover the ending Dickens had planned for his last novel. Perhaps he’d written more than was known. Finding it would be a coup that could save his career. Osgood travels to England in search of answers, taking along his book keeper, Rebecca Sands, Daniel’s sister.

Meanwhile, in India, a major shipment of opium has gone missing. Superintendent Frank Dickens, son of Charles, has his hands full investigating the theft and possible corruption in his police force. He is dedicated to his job and determined to get to the bottom of the crime.

The novel also takes the reader back in time to 1867 during Charles Dickens’ second book tour on American soil. His experience is fraught with illness, rabid fans, speculators, tax collectors, and Bookaneers. Charles captivates those around him. Imagine hearing him speak in person! Those traveling with Charles are loyal to him, including the Irish Tom Branagan who keeps an eye out for the trouble he suspects is right around the corner.

All three narratives come together nicely as the book draws to a close. The novel is not short of thrills. Murder, spies, the drug trade and the underhanded practices of certain publishers make sure of that. The book had a few slow moments but it was never dull. Literature lovers will enjoy the occasional mention of some literary greats.

I wish I could have spent more time with Frank Dickens. His portion of the book was much shorter than the rest. His story was minor though in comparison to Osgood and Charles Dickens, so it is understandable why. Still, he is a character I wouldn’t have minded exploring further. My favorite character of all, however, was Rebecca. She reminded me of the librarian from The Mummy. Rebecca was strong and capable, intelligent and independent. I really enjoyed getting to know Charles Dickens as well. He could be charming and charismatic, but was not without his own peccadilloes too.

Matthew Pearl’s writing definitely sets the tone of the novel, taking me back to the nineteenth century. He paid close attention to historical details and facts. He captured the historical period quite well, including the shifts in the opium trade and the influence the drug had on society, both where it was being grown and in the market where it was sold and used.

The publishing industry in the 1800’s was still evolving. International copyright laws were nonexistent, and so after a book was published in Britain, it was a free for all for American publishers. Competition was steep, the publishers trying to get their hands on the books so they could be the first to publish books by foreign authors, like Dickens. Much to the dismay of the competition, Charles Dickens entered into an agreement with Fields, Osgood & Company, and it was by professional courtesy that the other American publishers kept their hands off his books. At least until Dickens’ death and all that was left was an incomplete novel. The lengths that the publishers would go to sabotage each other and get their hands on those books are downright wild.

Another aspect of the book that fascinated me was the antics of the public, including the fans. I shouldn’t be surprised. Look at how people react to movie and television stars today. So why wouldn’t people be taking an imprint of Dickens’ foot as a souvenir or stealing his pillow in the night? Haven’t I stood in line to get an author’s autograph, stammering unintelligibly how much I like that author’s work, or still hold dear the first response letter I ever received from an author?

I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Dickens and look forward to reading the author’s other books. Maybe I’ll even pick up another Dickens' novel to read soon. Christmas is coming up . . .

Rating: * (Very Good)

If you have not had the chance yet, please take time to read Matthew Pearl's guest post titled Animals and Writing. Matthew is an author after my own heart, reaching out to help and protect animals.

For more information about the author and his books visit his website. Matthew Pearl is the author of The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Dickens. Visit TLC Tour stops for a list of Matthew Pearl's tour stops!

Disclosure: Review copy provided by Random House.

Would you like a chance to win a copy of The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl? The publisher, Random House, is offering a copy to one lucky reader in the U.S.A. or Canada. Due to publishing rights issues, they are not able to ship to any other countries. I, however, have no such restrictions and am giving away a copy at my own expense to one lucky reader outside of the U.S.A. and Canada. In other words, this giveaway is open worldwide!

For a chance to win, please leave a comment along with your e-mail address (and whether you are in U.S./Canada or in another country so I know which giveaway to add you to) if it is not easily accessible via your blog or website. The deadline to enter is October 22nd at 11:59 p.m. PDT. The winner will be notified by e-mail.

Good luck!

***Giveaway Closed***

Thank you to all who entered The Last Dickens Giveaways. The winners were chose at random using Congratulations to the winners:

Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea
Ruth from Book Focus

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. I've read several reviews of this, and seen your guest post with Pearl, and I can't help myself. I must sign up! rnawrot at cfl dot rr dot com (Thank you!!!)

  2. Oliver Twist? That's such a cool character to have a thing for. Sadly I haven't developed any such warm feelings for any fictional characters yet. Anyway, I really have to give this author another try because I read The Poe Shadow and I wasn't really all that thrilled.

  3. I mentioned yesterday that this is book definitely on my list of books I must read. My plan is to try to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Drood, and the Last Dickens together. We shall see if that ever comes to pass.

    I would love to be entered in the give away....

    Mstermind1 at gmail dot com

  4. I haven't read any of Matthew Pearl yet but he's been on my TBR list for a long while. I'd love to be entered!

    persianpickle at hotmail dot com

    Thank you!

  5. I would love to read this one. Thanks for the giveaway!


  6. I haven't read any of his books either but after your review of this one I'm definitely adding it to my radar!
    Please enter me for the giveaway. Thank you :)

  7. Great review! I would be interested in reading it, so go ahead and toss my name in the hat.

    csayban at cox dot net

  8. Great review and giveaway.

  9. Great review Wendy as always. I've seen this one around quite a bit and it's on my wishlist so I'll enter even though I shouldn't. lol. I have to say that Oliver Twist is one of my favorites-I've seen the movie half a dozen times and read the book about 3. A Christmas Carol I've read more times than I can count! lol.

  10. I would love to read this. Great review and giveaway although I read reviews of books I have not yet read VERY slowly so that I can stop suddenly before I get through a whole spoiler. :)

  11. This looks intriguing; especially as I had to read a lot of Dickens when in university.
    My favourite book was and still is, Pickwick Papers;it is a jolly happy book and quite unlike his others.

  12. PS my email is
    mtaylorlee AT Shaw DOT ca.

  13. I have not read much of Dickens either I must admit, though I hate to. I have him on my list to read more of but like so many other names and titles, I haven't yet. I have seen this book in a few other blogs but your is the first review I've read. And now I feel I must read this book. There is so much going on and it all sounds so interesting. I love the the fans and the publishing co. are written about. I haven't read anything by Mr. Pearl either. I hope this is my first!

    Thank you for your generous giveaway.
    I am in the US! :o)

  14. I'd love to play please!

    I'm outside the US.


  15. Love the review, Wendy! I hadn't even seen this book, but it definitely looks good to me. Please enter me in the contest.

  16. I adore Dickens--some of the greatest characters (and names)ever! I'd love to read this; sounds so interesting.


  17. I've heard some really good things about this book! Please include me in the US/Canada draw.


  18. I've been following this book tour around, and I would love to read this book. Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  19. Your review makes me want to read the book. Please enter me to win:

    pizzo underscore kathleen at yahoo dot com

  20. A very interesting book to win.
    I am a google reader follower.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

  21. Please include me in the giveaway! It looks like a good book and fairly approachable.

  22. Intriguing book, I would like to be entered!


  23. I so want to read this book. It sounds fabulous!

    melacan at hotmail dot com

  24. So much to comment on! I'll try to keep it brief. :)

    I've done blog tours just because I wanted to read the book. Actually, I think with all the books we have on our lists that it is better to sign up for something that you would have read anyway.

    Dickens. I love Dickens but he's also an author that I continue to be intimidated by. I've read 3 of his novels and a handful of other bits, but there's just so much more out there! (You must read Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol would take you an afternoon--I think).

    And I love the idea of being transported to Dickens' world--I love Victorian era things.

    Um, ok, keeping it short. I'd love to be entered. :) trishsreadingnook at gmail dot com

  25. I Loved his first book, so i'd really like to read this one; thanks Wendy. Terrific review.

    bibliophilebythesea AT gmail DOT com

  26. I would love to win this book! It has definitely caught my attention.
    joannelong74 AT gmail DOT com

  27. Your review is top drawer Wendy!! I loved revisiting this book through your eyes. And as soon as you mentioned the librarian from The Mummy I was like..."Of Course!!! She is that person exactly!!! " Wonderful review!!

  28. Thank you for this giveaway and for a possibility.



  29. Wow, great giveaway! I like Dickens very much, especially The Tale of Two Cities (which made me cry my heart out, seriously), Hard Times, and Great Expectations.

    I live outside the US. Thank you for the international giveaway!


  30. I would like to enter!
    I'm from Portugal!
    Best regards!

    carlos_durao AT hotmail DOT com

  31. I'm ashamed to say I'm just a lurker. But I would love to read this book!

    I'm from Chile and my e-mail is marenfuga at gmail dot com. Thank you for the chance!

  32. I've been hearing so many great things about this book ... I would love the chance to read it! Thanks so much!

    amymelniczenko AT gmail DOT com

  33. I love Charles Dickens and this would be an interesting read.

    kimi kaio @ (no spaces)

  34. Please count me in!
    I live in Finland. :)


  35. I've read a lot of Dickens way back when. I'd like to read this boo as well.
    I'm in the U.S.


  36. Hey! Long time no visit for me. I am trying to catch up on all my blog reading...Your new header is so adorable! I likey. :)

    I saw Dickens' house when I was in London or maybe it was where he wrote. I don't remember. But the point is at some point in time he stepped foot into that building. :P I have a photo I think, if my internet ever allows me to upload a photo from my trip. *sigh*

    I'd love to read this book. I live in the U.S.

    mycreativeimagination (at) yahoo (dot) com

  37. Great review, Wendy! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this book! :)

  38. Thank you all for entering the giveaway! Good luck!

    Sandy - Wasn't that guest post great? If I hadn't already wanted to read his books, I definitely would after reading that.

    Lilly - Oliver was probably a little too good to be true, but he's such an adorable boy. It's impossible not to like him.

    I am really looking forward to reading The Poe Shadow and The Dante Club, but I've heard a few people say that The Dante Club is his best book so far. Have you read that one yet?

    Molly - I would probably have read all three of the books together had this tour not come along. I do want to read Drood, but I don't yet have a copy.

    Myckyee - I'm glad I finally got a chance to read one of his books.

    Iliana - I hope you will enjoy it if you do read it!

    Dar - Thank you! It is making the rounds this month in the blogosphere. I'm behind in reading the reviews.

    Oliver Twist is such a great story. I can't wait to read A Christmas Carol.

    Frances - Thank you! I understand. I often forget details between the time I read a book and a review, so I don't usually worry too much about minor spoilers. It's the big ones that bother me. Fortunately, I don't know too many people who give those away without proper warning.

    Merri - I wish I had had to read Dickens in school. I might have had a chance to read more by him by now. I'll have to look for Pickwick Papers. That might even be in my omnibus.

    Amy - He's one of those authors we probably feel we should have read more of, isn't he?

    There is quite a bit going on in The Last Dickens. It definitely makes for interesting reading.

    Bookshelf Monstrosity,Chad, edmontonjb - Thank you so much!

    Llehn & alitareads - I've added you in!

    Christine & Kathleen Thank you! Good luck!

    Lisa - I am looking forward to reading more of Dickens' work (and Matthew Pearl's).

    Gwendolyn - I need to go back and check out the tour stops I've skipped because I was still reading this one. I'm glad I got to be a part of the tour.

  39. Kathleen, Majorie, Amy & Holdenj - Thank you for entering!

    Trish - I agree. It's not a good idea to sign up for a tour just because there's a tour. I'd much rather read a book I want to read.

    I am a bit intimidated by Dickens too. I think that's part of why I haven't read more by him at this point. I'll definitely make a point of reading Great Expectations. Thank you for the recommendation. :-)

    Diane - Thanks! I really want to go back and read The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow now. I have both books in my TBR collection. Just need to dig them out. :-)

    Staci - Thank you so much! I had the librarian from The Mummy in my head as I read about Rebecca. LOL

    Alessandra - Thank you! I definitely want to read The Tale of Two Cities one day. I hear it is one of his best. Hopefully I will read all of his books eventually. :-)

    etirv, Pam, Jo-Jo, & Anonymous(bgcchs) - Thank you for entering!

    Beatriz - There is nothing wrong with being a lurker. :-) I am glad you read my blog. Thanks for entering!

    Rebecca - You've been extra busy, so I understand. I'm glad you dropped by though. :-)

    I bet that was a great experience, to visit Dickens' house. Hopefully someday I'll get a chance to do that too. I hope you'll be able to upload the photos from your trip.

    Melody - Thank you, Melody! I had such a fun time reading this one.

    Stangelove, Kimikimi, Milka, & Carol - Thank you for dropping by and entering!

  40. I would love this one!

    o_rei_de_havana AT hotmail DOT com

  41. Oh, good offer!

    jafantunes AT sapo DOT pt

  42. educhico AT gmail DOT com - put this one on this giveaway

  43. Hello there!
    Thank you for this giveaway.
    The book seems to be a great read!


  44. Wow, great giveaway!
    Count me in, please, please, please!

    catarina DOT magoito AT gmail DOT com

  45. Matthew Pearl has been on my TBR list for a while, recommended by several friends. I'd love to win this book to get me started!

  46. I'm up for this!

  47. Please count me in.
    It's a great prize!

  48. One more for the road!
    joanapatriciadias AT gmail DOT com

  49. My great friend J Dias just sent me an email telling me to sign up for this!
    Thank you to her and to you for the giveaway!

    tanitalves AT sapo DOT pt

  50. I'd love a chance to win! I'm in the US.

    aarti.nagaraju [at] gmail [dot] com. GREAT review, too!

  51. Oh, how nice of you! There are so many contests that are US- and Canada-only, and it's so nice of you to go above and beyond with a giveaway like that. :)

    Anyway, I'd love to enter - this book sounds really fascinating to me! I'm from New Zealand (yeah... REALLY not eligible for US/Canada giveaways.)

    Email: kiwibooklover at gmail dot com

  52. I love Dickens. And I am truly intrigue by this book. Please do count me in!


  53. Wow - for not knowing how to start a review you did a great job! Very thorough. This is a book that I had not heard of before, but it sounds really good. I am in the USA and would love to win it!

    kherbrand at comcast dot net

  54. Thanks for the great giveaway!


  55. Your review of this book is great. I also went onto Matthew's website and checked out what he had to say there. This is definitely a book that I would like to read. Please enter me in this great giveaway.

    I live in the U.S.

    bstilwell12 at comcast dot net

  56. No need to enter me. I just wanted to stop by and say I loved your review and I'm with you...I would have liked to see more of Frank Dickens.

  57. thanks for the giveaway! I'm not in the US or Canada, thanks for opening the contest to us international readers as well!


  58. Hi, I'm from Malaysia! I'd love to enter your contest!

    Please enter my contest for a Signed Copy of Once Upon A Nightmare by Lee Moylan! Only 32 entries so far.

    aikychien at yahoo dot com

  59. Serena - Thank you, Serena! Frank seemed like such an interesting character.

    Cavalier, Jafantunes, Edu,
    Maria, Caty, Pam, Susy, Mil, J Dias, Tanita, Aarti, Ruth, Gautami, Kristi, Melissa, Barb, Andrea - Thank you all for entering the giveaway!

    Aik - Thank you for dropping in. I'm afraid you are too late to enter the giveaway. The deadline was on the 22nd.

  60. **Giveaway Closed as of October 22nd**

    The winners were chose via a random drawing.
    Congratulations to the winners of The Last Dickens:
    Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea
    Ruth from Book Focus

    Thank you to all who entered!

  61. I so want to read this book. After reading your blog I want to read it evern more. I knew I should have picked it up. Oh well....I guess its back to Borders. A readers browsing is never done.Wisteria

  62. Wisteria - I hope you get the chance, Donna! I often find myself wishing I'd picked up a book I was considering getting but didn't after a visit to the bookstore. It's an excuse to go back though! :-)


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