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The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

Pub Date:

The Dante Club Cover The Dante Club
A Novel
Matthew Pearl

Random House
February, 2003
Hardcover/373 pages
ISBN: 0-375-50529-6
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". . . a well-researched first novel with much potential."

 

 

 

"Longfellow, Holmes and Lowell are fascinating historical personages . . ."

In Boston immediately following the Civil War an unusual alliance is formed. The Dante Club''s sole purpose is to translate Dante''s The Divine Comedy from the Italian into American English and thus introduce it to the reading public. Noted poet and Harvard professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow takes the lead. He is joined in this endeavor by literary geniuses Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell along with publisher J.T. Fields. Together this tight-knit association vows to succeed in their task despite vocal opposition from the Harvard Corporation, who fear Dante''s work will prove to be as intellectually corrupting as the hoards of Italian immigrants beginning to fill Boston''s streets.

And then the unthinkable happens–a judge is murdered. No ordinary murder, the judge is left naked outside to be eaten alive by flesh-eating maggots not native to North America. Soon another oddly executed murder occurs. This time it''s a highly respected minister who recently reported a great sum of money missing. The good clergyman is found buried upside down in the vault beneath his church, his feet set on fire.

The Dante Club members are shocked. Who else in Boston besides they have read The Divine Comedy? Who else could have conducted this series of bizarre murders based on the depiction of Hell''s tortures as described in Inferno? And why did the murderer believe his victims were deserving of such horrible punishments?

This small circle of Boston''s literary elite concludes that only they have the knowledge that can successfully solve these heinous crimes. Along with Nicholas Rey–a young mulatto police officer recently appointed to the force–these unlikely sleuths set out to the collect clues and solve the mystery before the villain strikes again.

The Dante Club is a well-researched first novel with much potential. But it sometimes doesn''t always deliver on its promises. The average mystery-thriller reader may not appreicate the novel''s glacial pacing. Literary aficionados may be surprised by occasional passages of lackluster prose. And while there''s no doubt that Longfellow, Holmes and Lowell are fascinating historical personages in their own right, often they are used as vehicles for back story and historical elements without much personality. But never fear, for with the author''s sterling credentials, The Dante Club is destined to remain on the best-seller lists in spite of a few deficiencies.

Reviewer: Cindy Appel