The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
“Boston, 1865. A series of murders, all of them inspired by scenes in Dante’s Inferno. Only an elite group of America’s first Dante scholars – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and J.T. Fields – can solve the mystery.”
If the blurb reads so well, most cynics feel the book will disappoint. Matthew Pearl’s inventive whodunit proves them wrong. This whodunit is one to get your hands on. It is a credible, stylish and an unputdownable mystery. Set in an era when intellectuals were shaping the course of learning and publishing in America, the book brings historical figures to life and breathes life into them.
The four scholars, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and J.T. Fields, along with Longfellow’s friend George Washington Greene, formed the Dante Club to translate Dante’s Divine Comedy into English for the American public. The task, which originally consumed Longfellow and then drew the others to the fire in his study, was massive but unwelcome. Dante’s Inferno and other Renaissance material was considered largely impious and immoral. The graphic descriptions of Hell described in Dante’s Inferno was considered improper for the American people at the time. Despite Harvard’s best efforts at stopping the translation, Longfellow and his friends continue to translate and intend to publish.
Besides the historical facts that make the characters of some of the most famous poets of that century come alive, there seem to be murders happening all across Boston which have been picked up directly from Dante’s Inferno. The Boston public is shocked by the murder of Judge Healey who is eaten alive by a swarm of maggots. Maggots don’t usually prefer the alive kind but this particular species feeds exclusively on fresh flesh.
But that is not all. A series of gruesome murders mimicking the cantons in the Inferno keep cropping up as and when the Dante Club finishes translating them. A priest buried alive upside down with his feet burned, a merchant with his body cut into strips. The brutality of the murders is accentuated by the alleged crimes of those persons and Dante’s Hell is descends on the foggy streets of the city.
This book is a historical-fiction-murder-mystery novel parallelling the story-telling of Ellis Peters and Paul Doherty and the thrill of a Dan Brown or Steve Berry novel. To tally the inducements of this novel, your favourite 19th century American poets, gutted bodies, putrid flesh, bloody pools and snatches of Dante’s Inferno in all its ominous gore. Happy reading!
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