NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Before The Dante Chamber, there was The Dante Club: “an ingenious thriller that . . . brings Dante Alighieri’s Inferno to vivid, even unsettling life.”—The Boston Globe
“With intricate plots, classical themes, and erudite characters . . . what’s not to love?”—Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and Origin
Boston, 1865. The literary geniuses of the Dante Club—poets and Harvard professors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, along with publisher J. T. Fields—are finishing America’s first translation of The Divine Comedy. The powerful Boston Brahmins at Harvard College are fighting to keep Dante in obscurity, believing the infiltration of foreign superstitions to be as corrupting as the immigrants arriving at Boston Harbor.
But as the members of the Dante Club fight to keep a sacred literary cause alive, their plans fall apart when a series of murders erupts through Boston and Cambridge. Only this small group of scholars realizes that the gruesome killings are modeled on the descriptions of Hell’s punishments from Dante’s Inferno. With the lives of the Boston elite and Dante’s literary future in the New World at stake, the members of the Dante Club must find the killer before the authorities discover their secret.
Praise for The Dante Club
“Ingenious . . . [Matthew Pearl] keeps this mystery sparkling with erudition.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Not just a page-turner but a beguiling look at the U.S. in an era when elites shaped the course of learning and publishing. With this story of the Dante Club’s own descent into hell, Mr. Pearl’s book will delight the Dante novice and expert alike.”—The Wall Street Journal
“[Pearl] ably meshes the . . . literary analysis with a suspenseful plot and in the process humanizes the historical figures. . . . A divine mystery.”—People (Page-turner of the Week)
“An erudite and entertaining account of Dante’s violent entrance into the American canon.”—Los Angeles Times
“A hell of a first novel . . . The Dante Club delivers in spades. . . . Pearl has crafted a work that maintains interest and drips with nineteenth-century atmospherics.”—San Francisco Chronicle
A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of exceptional importance that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.THE DANTE CLUBMatthew Pearl. Random, (382p) Talk about high concept: in Pearl's debut novel, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell team up with 19th-century publisher J.T. Fields to catch a serial killer in post Civil War Boston. It's the fall of 1865, and Harvard University, the cradle of Bostonian intellectual life, is overrun by sanctimonious scholars who turn up their noses at European literature, confining their study to Greek and Latin. Longfellow and his iconoclastic crew decide to produce the first major American translation of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Their ambitious plans are put on hold when they realize that a murderer terrorizing Boston is recreating some of the most vivid scenes of chthonic torment in Dante's Inferno. Since knowledge of the epic is limited to rarefied circles in 19th-century America, the "Dante Club" decides the best way to clear their own names is to match wits with the killer. The resulting chase takes them through the corridors of Harvard, the grimy docks of Boston Harbor and the subterranean labyrinths of the metropolis. It also gives Pearl an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that he's done his history homework. The detective story is well plotted, and Pearl's recreation of the contentious world of mid-19th century academia is engrossing, even though some of its more ambitious elements like an examination of intellectual hypocrisy and insularity in the Ivy League are somewhat clunky. There are, as well, some awkward attempts to replicate 19th-century prose ("But for Holmes the triumph of the club was its union of interests of that group of friends whom he felt most fortunate to have"). Still, this is an ambitious and often entertaining thriller that may remind readers of Caleb Carr.
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Hist/Myst & Lit/Myst
If you like mysteries with literary characters and a lot of authentic historical background, read this book. Since Longfellow & Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and James Russell Lowell are pretty much neglected I didn't know a lot about their lives and friends. Boston and New England were very important in arts and letters in early USA & through the time period which this book depicts.
Another reviewer suggests reading Dante's Inferno before reading this book. I agree completely. Ironically, I tried the Longfellow translation of Dante (critical part of this mystery) first and found it very hard going. Dante's famous rhyming pattern is tortuous in the English language. I went back to the translation I read in college (John Chiardi) and was much happier.
Thrilling! An absolute great read.
Had to read this for an English class last summer and had to download it here to read it again. This was the most surprisingly great book I've read. I would suggest reading The Inferno, if not all of The Divine Comedy, before reading though; there is a ton of Dante references so not being somewhat familiar with his Divine Comedy would hinder your experience with this novel.