February 12, 2014

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl (Review)

Title: The Dante Club
Author: Matthew Pearl
First published: 2003
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This novel is a literary detective set in Boston shortly after the Civil War, when the first American translation of Divine Comedy into English was being done. While the Dante Club, a society of poets, is concerned with the nuances of meaning and word choices, horrible murders start to happen in the city, and only the members of the club can see that they copy the tortures of Dante's Inferno.

I really liked the premise, but wasn't very impressed with the novel itself. To begin with, I didn't appreciate graphic descriptions of the tortures. With my unhealthy imagination, flesh eating maggots can easily spoil not only my meals but also my sleep, which they did. Also, the writing was not my thing. I can't even say what was wrong with it, but I fell asleep even at the most suspenseful and revealing parts.

I'm not an expert in mysteries as I don't read them often, but I do know that I prefer a close circle of suspects. I enjoy guessing who did it, betting with myself and changing my opinion as new evidence turns up. Here, new characters keep appearing all the time, and soon you just stop guessing, because you know somebody much more suitable will be introduced soon.

This said, the historical setting was really interesting: post-war and post-slavery problems, literary discussions, immigrants, police work - all these aspects of Boston life in the nineteenth century are important parts of the story, and this makes it quite educational.

In my book:
A nice historical mystery, but not my cup of tea.

I read this for Plagues Witches and War: The World of Historical Fiction Book Club, which is a wonderful group that you totally need to check out! :)


  1. I liked this book, perhaps reading this right after I read Inferno helped me a bit to delve into the story.

    1. I thought that re-reading Inferno might be helpful, but I was lazy to do so. I read Divine Comedy a couple of years ago and of course have forgotten a lot :)

  2. I am not fond of mysteries and probably wouldn't enjoy it in spite of its being tied with Dante's poetry. I'd rather reread Dante.

    1. I AM fond of mysteries, but the author is neither Conan Doyle nor Agatha Christie. Rereading Dante instead is the right move!

  3. I was intrigued by the premise and gave this one a try a few years ago, but didn't get very far. Somehow I never found it believable. I enjoyed your review though--it's always interesting to see what others like or don't like about a book.

    1. I think I would have dropped it too if not for the book club. But it dragged so much for me.... Good to know I'm not alone in this :)

  4. I have this on my shelf but haven't read it yet. Mysteries can be hit or miss for me. I am not a hardcore fan but I like them enough. But when I don't like them, I REALLY don't like them.


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