The debut novel and New York Times Bestseller,International Bestseller and Booksense 76 selection hailed by Esquire as “audacious and captivating” and by The Boston Globe as “a preternaturally accomplished book as wise as it is entertaining.” Chosen by New York Public Library as one of 2003’s 25 Books to Remember (taken from www.matthewpearl.com). The novel was published in the United States in 2003 and quickly reached the top of several best-seller lists. The book is classified as a mystery novel and the plot is mainly fictional, although the main protagonists are real, as are many of their biographical details.
The action takes place in 1865 Boston. The group of highly respectable men – poets and Harvard professors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and publisher J. T. Fields set up a group which aims to provide the first American translation of ‘The Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri. They call themselves Dante Club and are not only translators of the Italian masterpiece, but also true followers of its author. However, they bump into some obstacles on their way to introduce Dante to American society. One of the members of Harvard society – Augustus Manning wants to prevent the Club from revealing Dante’s description of a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. However, the worst is yet to come. A series of mysterious murders takes place in Boston and Cambridge. As the time goes by, the members of Dante Club realise that the ways victims were murdered had been based on punishments described in Dante’s Hell (Inferno). The group of friends start their own, secret investigation and try to stop the killer. They find an ally in Nicholas Rey, the first black member of the police department in Boston, and they get closer and closer to puzzle out the mystery. The answer turns out to be closer than they could have thought.
I’ve read the following novel twice and each time my impression was exactly the same. It has everything that a high quality novel ought to have. It is interesting, very engrossing, mysterious and plausible due to its historical background and real characters incorporated into the plot. From the very beginning the author activates readers’ imagination and makes them start their own investigation, come up with their own solutions. While going through pages I wasn’t just reading some story about some people written by some author. No. I felt as if I’d been the part of the story, as if I’d participated in the events. That’s what I love about books. Their power to move you to a different world, some other reality coexisting with the one you live in. What is more, I like when an author builds up the plot around some other literary works, incorporates other books into his own story. When it comes to ‘The Dante Club’, the author decides to utilize an Italian masterpiece by Dante Alighieri – ‘The Divine Comedy’ which I personally regard as a must read book. Finally, what is crucial when it comes to mystery novels – the ending. Pearl makes readers wait till the very end before he reveals the truth, which makes the book surprising and increases its value. All in all, I highly recommend ‘The Dante Club’. The time spent on reading this novel definitely won’t be wasted.
Matthew Pearl was interviewed about The Dante Club on the NPR national radio show “Weekend Edition Sunday” with guest host Linda Wertheimer. You can listen to the interview online HERE