Pearl, while still in his 20s, has written an erudite and entertaining account of Dante's violent entrance into the American canon. His novel describes how the distinguished founders of a Dante Club at Cambridge in 1865 become embroiled in a gruesome set of murders inspired by the punishments of "The Inferno." Pearl's heroes are charmingly eccentric. James Russell Lowell smokes cigars while bathing and reaches for his rifle at slight provocation. The compulsive but kindhearted narcissist Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. writes as much for profit as for inspiration. The club leader, stoic Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, does not sleep at night. In addition to the Pickwick-like central cast, cultural celebrities Louis Agassiz, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. figure in the highbrow misadventures. — Joseph Luzzi
The serial murderer who draws gory inspiration from the torments of Dante's Inferno has cropped up in thrillers before -- Michael Dibdin's "A Rich Full Death" and Thomas Harris's "Hannibal" -- but Pearl's ingenious notion is to set his début novel in Boston in 1865, when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes were translating Dante into English. As they work through the cantos, the Dante-inspired corpses arrive on cue, and the versifiers must turn detective. Pearl, a Harvard graduate and Dante enthusiast, is at his best when discussing "The Divine Comedy" but is less suited to the generic demands of the thriller, which leads to obvious, and gruesome, B-movie plotting. He also has a fine sense of the period, but he overdoes things; the characters cannot walk down the street without tripping over some famous historical personage.
In the ingenious new literary mystery "The Dante Club," someone with intimate knowledge of "The Divine Comedy" appears to be staging murders that mirror the punishments of Dante's "Inferno." Considering that the prodigiously clever first-time author, Matthew Pearl, is a Harvard- and Yale-educated Dante scholar who won a 1998 prize from the Dante Society of America, it is fortunate that he was content with simply writing a book... Working on a vast canvas, Mr. Pearl keeps this mystery sparkling with erudition. Among its many sidelights are the attack by Dr. Louis Agassiz of Harvard upon Darwin's theory of evolution; a discussion of the Fugitive Slave Act and its consequences; the resistance faced by Italian immigrants, who number only about 300 in the Boston area in 1865; and the killing of Dr. George Parkman by John W. Webster, a crime that still haunts Holmes. Most vivid is the battle between the Harvard Corporation and the principals' artistic freedom. "I do not understand how you can put your good name, everything you've worked for your whole life, on the line for something like this,"says Manning, who has threatened to shut down Lowell's Dante class. And Lowell replies: "Don't you wish to heaven you could?" Mr. Pearl, with this captivating brain teaser as his debut novel, seems also to have put his life's work on the line in melding scholarship with mystery. He does justice to both.
The New York Times
Chosen as "The Big Important Book of the Month" Audacious and captivating... Who can solve these devilish crimes? Why, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, famous writers and Dante obsessives who are called in as CSIs. Pearl's Dante scholarship is truly admirable, and hats off to anyone who's this passionate about the crazy Florentine -- or, indeed, to anyone who's this passionate about anything... As Holmes says to Lowell, 'I fear I will catch your Dante mania.' Don't be surprised if, after having read THE DANTE CLUB, you find yourself revisiting your old tattered college-issued Inferno. How much, it turns out, you've been missing.
Many American devotees may not know that they owe their first translation of "The Divine Comedy" to another great poet: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The bard gave the New World not only its first taste of the Italian poet but, with Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell, its first Dante Society. This is the setting for Matthew Pearl's ambitious novel, "The Dante Club."....Mr. Pearl's book will delight the Dante novice and expert alike.
In 1865, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow began the first full-length American translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. He collaborated with the poets James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes, historian George Washington Greene and publisher J.T. Fields, forming a literary group called the Dante Club. In this historical thriller, Pearl imagines what could have happened during this critical time in literary history. As the Dante Club fights against the Harvard authorities, who find Dante's journey through the torments of hell too harsh, "too Italian and too Catholic, " their translation project is jeopardized even further by a series of gory murders inspired by Dante's Inferno. This brilliant but bumbling group races to solve the mystery before the police and the public discover the murderer's misguided admiration for Dante. Though these characters are shaped by rich detail, they remain a bit wooden, and their involvement with the police investigation seems contrived. Still, the book provides an imaginative look into the private lives of some of our country's most famous poets and the Boston publishing industry that shaped their careers.
In 1865 Boston, not many people spoke Italian. It was much more popular for people to study Latin and Greek; the classic works in these languages were common reading for students and academics. But the small circle of literati in Pearl's inventive novel is bent on translating and publishing Dante's Divine Comedy so that all Americans may learn of the writer's genius. As this group of scholars, poets, publishers and professors readies the manuscript, much more exciting doings are happening outside their circle. The Boston police are hot on the trail of a series of murders taking place around town. In one, a priest is buried alive, his feet set on fire; in another, a man's body is eaten by maggots. It doesn't take a rocket scientist-only a Dante expert-to realize these murders are based on Dante's Inferno and its account of Hell's punishments. Scholars become snoopers, and the Dante Club is soon on the scene, investigating the crimes and trying to find the killer. A tad unlikely, but it makes for a terrific story. Gaines gives an stirring performance, nimbly portraying some of the "Hah-vad" professors' "Bah-ston" accents and impressively reading the Italian passages from Dante's work. Although it's sometimes hard to differentiate between the various characters-after awhile each stuffy Bostonian begins to sound alike-Gaines nonetheless amuses and, via Pearl's historical references, educates. Simultaneous release with the Random hardcover (Forecasts, Oct. 7, 2002). (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
A serial killer is loose in this historical novel set in 1865 Boston. Strangely, the murderer kills his victims using the tortures described in Dante's Inferno. The Dante Club, whose members include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, meet weekly to edit the first English translation of Dante's poem. These literary men soon realize that the murderer is using their translation as a model for his crimes and decide to search for the killer. John Seidman's narration of Pearl's debut novel is clear and easy to understand; recommended for public and academic libraries.--Ilka Gordon, Medical Lib., Fairview General Hosp., Cleveland Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
(Starred Review) Ingenious use of details and motifs from the Divine Comedy, and a lively picture of the literary culture of post-bellum New England, distinguish this juicy debut historical mystery.
The year is 1865. The eponymous Club, whose members include Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, meet regularly to plan promoting American interest in Dante's masterpiece (by now Longfellow's translation is well underway). But Harvard's tenacious devotion to its classical curriculum discourages such eclecticism ("Italy is a world of the worst passions and loosest morals"). Moreover, several violent murders clearly inspired by punishments meted out to sinners in Dante's Inferno claim highly visible victims (a Massachusetts Chief Justice, a prominent clergyman, a wealthy art patron). The scholars therefore turn detectives, bumping heads with, among others, Boston's harried police chief, "mulatto" patrolman Nicholas Rey, and "minor Pinkerton detective" Simon Camp. Crucial clues to the killer's identity lurk in information possessed by a "disgraced" professor, entomological research performed by botanist Louis Agassiz, a series of sermons attended by wounded Civil War veterans, and standing evidence (so to speak) of the notorious Fugitive Slave Law. Author Pearl, a 26-year-old Yale Law School graduate and Dante scholar, offers a wealth of entertaining detail, but his fictional skills need sharpening: there are a few confusing shifts in viewpoint; in at least one scene a character speaks up before we've been told that he's present; and the eventual capture of the villain is inexplicably interrupted by a lengthy omniscient account of his personal history and developingmotivations. Most readers will forgive such lapses, however-thanks to an intricate and clever plot, and the author's distinctive characterizations of the gentle, courtly Longfellow, quick-tempered Lowell, and mercurial, ironical Holmes.
Great fun figuring out whodunit and why: a devil of a time.
"Matthew Pearl is the new shining star of literary fiction a heady, inventive, and immensely gifted author. With intricate plots, classical themes, and erudite characters…what’s not to love?"
"Working on a vast canvas, Mr. Pearl keeps this mystery sparkling with erudition... with this captivating brain teaser as his debut novel, seems also to have put his life's work on the line in melding scholarship with mystery. He does justice to both." -Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Audacious and captivating."
-Adrienne Miller, Esquire
"Mr. Pearl's triumph is mixing these two cultures: wealthy, cultivated men of letters faced with the mysterious and seedy streets of a 19th-century Boston... creating not just a page-turner but a beguiling look at the U.S. in an era when elites shaped the course of learning and publishing. With this story of the Dante Club's own descent into hell, Mr. Pearl's book will delight the Dante novice and expert alike." -Kimberley Strassel, The Wall Street Journal
"Pearl, a graduate of Harvard and Yale Law School and a Dante scholar, ably meshes the literary analysis with a suspenseful plot and in the process humanizes the historical figures... A divine mystery."
-Julie K. L. Dam, People Magazine (Page Turner of the Week)
"Just about anyone who admires smart historical fiction will get a literary jolt out of Matthew Pearl’s gory first novel... His Civil War memory fragments alone add up to one of the most unforgettable accounts of that chapter of American history yet written." -Celia McGee, The New York Daily News
"How the club and the police compete and then converge is the mystery and the thrill in a preternaturally accomplished book as wise as it is entertaining. 'The Dante Club' is a carefully plotted, imaginatively shaped, and stylistically credible whodunit of unusual class and intellect... The writing is passionate, the narrative driven."
-Carlo Wolff, The Boston Globe
"Pearl has achieved that intoxicating blend of reality and imagination that Doctorow gave us 25 years ago with Ragtime. Here's hoping Pearl decides to spend his career writing novels and letting that Yale law degree go to waste. The world has enough lawyers. Great novelists are in short supply."
-William Mckeen, The Orlando Sentinel
"Pearl masterfully synthesizes countless aspects of mid-19th-century life into a riveting mystery that creeps through all corners of crippled postwar Boston. To steal a revelation from the book: Lucifer did not create hell; it was Dante. In The Dante Club, Pearl adds one more diabolical ring."
-Christopher Bollen, Time Out (New York)
"This novel is as erudite as it is bloody. It swings from an account of exotic maggots eating a man alive to a discussion of the finer points of Dante's artistic and political vision. The Dante Club is a unique, ambitious, entertaining read, a historical thriller with a poetic streak."
-Chris Kidler, The Baltimore Sun
"'The Dante Club' is a richly detailed microcosm set generously before us. Within it, wit, erudition and a healthy respect for good old fashioned hugger-mugger conspire to produce one of this year's most agreeable entertainments."
-Bruce Allen, Raleigh News & Observer
"Pearl does what a good historical novelist has to do: Look at the past by the light of the imagination, creating a fictional situation there was of course no actual Dante killer in 1865 Boston to animate the ideas, issues and personalities of the time... There aren't many writers around who can remind you of both James Patterson and Umberto Eco."
-Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News
"Young author finds a 'Pearl' in mystery. Boston winters are cruel, and Matthew Pearl captures every icy finger of wind, every sinister shadow and more than a few human-induced chills in 'The Dante Club'... Pearl is a young author worth following. He's created a work that should appeal to history buffs, literary buffs and crime fiction fans alike."
-Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post
"A hell of a first novel... The Dante Club delivers in spades."
-David Lazarus, The San Francisco Chronicle
“The Dante Club is a thoroughly accomplished first novel. Matthew Pearl does a marvelous job of evoking the period and making it come alive with finely drawn characters and an ingenious story.”
-David Liss, Edgar Award–winning author of A Conspiracy of Paper
“A fascinating, erudite, and highly entertaining account of a remarkable moment in American literary history.”
-Iain Pears, author of An Instance of the Fingerpost
“In The Dante Club, Matthew Pearl expertly combines rollicking entertainment with serious insights about Civil War–era America. The book is fun, smart, and enviably audacious.”
-Darin Strauss, author of Chang & Eng and The Real McCoy
“This first-rate thriller breathes such life into the genre that the term ‘thrilling’ genuinely applies. Matthew Pearl not only succeeds with a deft and elegant plot, but delivers an eloquent and quirky message for our times about the value of literary heroes. In The Dante Club we are privileged to meet the most unlikely quartet of sleuths.”
-Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Lost
“The Dante Club is pure pleasure for the reader, magnificently informed without being stuffy, gripping without being merely sensational. I particularly enjoyed the nice, easy swing of its pacing. This book can be savored.”
-Peter Straub, co-author of Black House
“An ambitious and entertaining thriller that may remind readers of Caleb Carr.”
"Expertly weaving period detail, historical fact, complex character studies, and nail-biting suspense, Pearl has written a unique and utterly absorbing tale."
-Booklist Magazine (starred)
"Matthew Pearl's dazzler of a debut novel, The Dante Club, is just what an historical thriller should bea creative combo of edge-of-your-seat suspense, fully imagined characters, fictional and real, and an evocative, well-researched, well-realized setting"
"A devil of a time... Ingenious use of details and motifs from the Divine Comedy, and a lively picture of the literary culture of post-bellum New England, distinguish this juicy debut historical mystery."
-Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"Absorbing and dramatic... Pearl has proven himself a master."