The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
In this clever literary mystery, a wonderful first novel by Matthew Pearl, a Dante scholar and Harvard professor, 19th century Boston is brought to life. Soon after the end of the Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translated Dante’s work into English with the help of some of his friends and fellow poets. They met regularly to discuss and review Longfellow’s translation and dubbed themselves the Dante Club. Mr. Pearl uses this as the jumping off point for his story of how someone is killing people based on the punishments from Dante’s Inferno.
Mr. Pearl has written a wonderful cast of characters, including of course, Mr. Longfellow and fellow poets, James Russell Lowell and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes (the father not the Chief Justice!) taken from history but also Mr. Rey, as the first Black police officer in Boston, Mr. Bachi as an Italian immigrant and Mr. Camp as a Pinkerton detective-using them to discuss issues of race, immigration and corruption in the 19th century.
This beautifully written novel gets off to a ripping start with a scary “Caution to the Reader” preface by C. Lewis Watkins in wonderful mocumentary style!
I enjoyed this book very much and I’m looking forward to reading Mr. Pearl’s second novel, “The Poe Shadow”.
This is my 11th book review for the 2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge.