A rousing yarn of opium, book pirating, murder most foul, man-on-man biting and other shenanigans—and that’s just for starters.
Charles Dickens is dead, and, inexplicably, people are beginning to die because of that fact—not because they’ve got no reason to live absent new tales from a beloved author, but because said author’s last work-in-progress contains evidence of real-life mayhem that its perpetrators, it would seem, do not wish to see publicized. So runs the premise that Pearl (The Poe Shadow, 2006, etc.), who specializes in literary mysteries, offers. The story unfolds on the docks of Boston, to which an office boy has run to retrieve the next installment of Dickens’s Mystery of Edwin Drood, fresh off the boat from London. Said boy expires, unpleasantly, while a stranger of most peculiar manner is seen skulking in the vicinity, conspicuous by his “decidedly English accent” and “brown-parchment complexion,” suggestive of India and imperial milieus beyond. Dickens’s American publisher—better put, the only publisher in America who is paying the author royalties rather than stealing his work—sets out to solve the crime and retrieve the manuscript, with the clerk’s resourceful sister on hand to help on a journey across oceans and continents. Meanwhile, our stranger is up to more nasty business, slashing throats, sawing bones and giving people the willies. It’s clear that Pearl is having a fine time of it all, firing off a few inside jokes at the publishing business along the way: No matter that Dickens is dead with only six chapters done, says his London editor a trifle ungrammatically, for “Every reader who picks up the book, finding it unfinished, can spend their time guessing what the ending should be. And they’ll tell their friends to buy a copy and do the same, so it can be argued.”
A pleasing whodunit that resolves nicely, bookending Dan Simmons’s novel Drood (2009) as an imaginative exercise in what might be called alternative literary history.