Dante Chamber
by Pearl, Matthew

Poets Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson team up with poet Christina Rossetti and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes to decode literary clues after a murder victim is discovered in a London park with a verse from the Divine Comedy around his neck.

Matthew Pearl is the award-winning and bestselling author of the novels The Last Bookaneer, The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens, and The Technologists. His books have been New York Times bestsellers and international bestsellers, and have been translated into more than 30 languages. His nonfiction writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and Slate.com. He has been heard on shows including NPR's All Things Considered and Weekend Edition Sunday, and his books have been featured on Good Morning America and CBS Sunday Morning.

Devotees of high-end thrillers steeped in literary history have been awaiting Pearl's follow-up to The Dante Game (2002) for many years, and here it is. Once again, Pearl weaves an elaborate tale from the fevered imagination of Dante Alighieri, this time drawing on The Purgatorio, the second part of TheDivine Comedy. Unfathomably horrific murders are taking place in 1870 London, and, as was the case in Boston five years earlier, it will take a band of poets turned sleuths to figure out what's happening. Oliver Wendell Holmes is the only Dante Game player to turn up again, with Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, and Christina Rossetti rounding out the gang of poets on the case, which begins with trying to find Christina's brother and fellow poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who is soon identified as the chief suspect in a string of deaths that mimic the penances required by the denizens of Dante's purgatory. The plot here is perhaps even more complex than that of The Dante Game, but the sleuths lack some of the charisma of their American counterparts (especially Longfellow). Still, Pearl again does a stunning job of transforming Dante into brilliantly staged crime fiction. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Literary-fiction book clubbers who like to dabble in thrillers will be palpitating at another chance to mix Dante and murder. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

This well-wrought sequel of sorts to The Dante Club (2002) shifts the action to England and another set of literary lights who seek to solve crimes tied to The Divine Comedy. In late 1869, around the time a British member of Parliament dies under the crushing weight of a large stone on which a Latin message is written, the poet Christina Rossetti has an "ominous foreboding" about her missing brother, the erratic artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She, Robert Browning, and William Rossetti (another brother) seek clues at Gabriel's London home, which he shares with a monkey, a raccoon, and other nonwriting animals. The humans recognize links between the MP's death and punishments in Dante's "Purgatory." They will be joined in their probe by Alfred Tennyson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, visiting from Boston, and bothered by the well-read Scotland Yard Detective Adolphus "Dolly" Williamson, who has trouble with the Fenians but is more intrigued by the Dante killing. Soon it's killings, starting with an opera singer whose eyes are sewn shut before she's bizarrely impaled. While the literati grow concerned that Gabriel is involved in the deaths, an ex-Pinkerton operative arrives in England to try to capitalize on the crimes the way he did with those in Boston that Pearl (The Last Bookaneer, 2015, etc.) described in The Dante Club. Displaying extensive knowledge of the period and the writers, Pearl builds an intricate, well-layered plot. His addition of Holmes, one of the previous book's main players, supplies a bridge between the U.S. and U.K. Dantean crimes. The language has nice period touches but overall is less overdone than in Pearl's past. And his focus on Christina among several imposing male writers makes narrative sense but is also a refreshing choice and produces a complex, appealing character. A thoroughly entertaining excursion to the literary England of the late 19th century with some ink-stained amateur detectives. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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