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The Dante Club: 12/25/07
The Dante Club is Matthew Pearl's 2004 debut novel. It's set in Boston just after the close of the Civil War. A series of bizarre and gruesome murders are hitting the city. A local club of scholars working on an English translation of Dante's Inferno begin to see striking similarities between Dante's vision of hell and these recent murders.
I usually shy away from historical novels, especially mysteries, that have major historical figures as the detectives. They often seem too contrived to hold my suspension of disbelief. Pearl, though, kept my attention with his convincing descriptions of post Civil War Boston, the popular literary culture of the time and with how he managed to keep his historical figures human, interesting and believably flawed.
The grisly murders described in The Dante Club are presented with a detached, cold and frank manner. The matter-of-fact approach makes these scenes both gripping and disturbing to read.
There were a few too many scenes of Dante devotion that get in the way of the mystery. Fans though of Dante will probably enjoy these lengthy passages. Readers who aren't all that familiar with The Inferno will benefit from learning the passages relevant to the mystery.
Having now enjoyed The Dante Club, I am eagerly awaiting my chance in 2008 to read The Poe Shadow also by Pearl.