Friday, April 13, 2007

Genre Challenge: Mystery

For the month of March I read The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. I started out reading it for a project at work and then decided to count it as my mystery book for my monthly genre challenge.

The book was okay. I started out by reading the novel and got through the second chapter. It hadn’t really piqued my interest, so I thought maybe that listening to it on audio might help liven things up. I’m glad I switched to audio, because I don’t think I could have finished it otherwise.

The story takes place just after the Civil War in Boston. The primary characters are the literary giants of the day: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James T. Fields, from the Ticknor & Fields publishing company. This core group of men form the Dante Club. They are working on an English translation of Dante’s Inferno for the American public. All of the men are Dante fanatics, and they are met with resistance from the Harvard Corporation. Things start to get weird when several prominent men in Boston are murdered “Dante style.” The members of the Dante Club pick up on this because of their intimate knowledge of Inferno. Pretty soon Boston’s literary elite are investigating alongside the Boston police.

The reason that made the book just okay was that there seemed to be little distinction between the characters of Holmes, Longfellow, and Lowell. The ending was a bit convoluted as well. We are taken into the world of the killer for two chapters and then brought back into the Dante Club, and a character the reader hasn’t heard from since the middle of the book reappears, so in my opinion the ending was a bit jarring. I appreciate the idea of the book- wrapping literary giants around a murder and having them try to solve it. I’m happy that I gave it a try, but I can’t say that I’d read a Matthew Pearl novel again.