Summary and book reviews of The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

The Dante Club

By Matthew Pearl

The Dante Club
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2003,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2004,
    400 pages.

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Book Summary

Words can bleed.

In 1865 Boston, 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 and preparing to unveil Dante's remarkable visions to the New World. The powerful Boston Brahmins at Harvard College are fighting to keep Dante in obscurity, believing that the infiltration of foreign superstitions into American minds will prove as corrupting as the immigrants arriving at Boston Harbor.

The members of the Dante Club fight to keep a sacred literary cause alive, but 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 America at stake, the Dante Club members must find the killer before the authorities discover their secret.

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and an outcast police officer named Nicholas Rey, the first black member of the Boston police department, must place their careers on the line to end the terror. Together, they discover that the source of the murders lies closer to home than they ever could have imagined.

The Dante Club is a magnificent blend of fact and fiction, a brilliantly realized paean to Dante's continued grip on our imagination, and a captivating thriller that will surprise readers from beginning to end.

CANTICLE ONE
I

JOHN KURTZ, the chief of the Boston police, breathed in some of his heft for a better fit between the two chambermaids. On one side, the Irish woman who had discovered the body was blubbering and wailing prayers unfamiliar (because they were Catholic) and unintelligible (because she was blubbering) that prickled the hair in Kurtz's ear; on the other side was her soundless and despairing niece. The parlor had a wide arrangement of chairs and couches, but the women had squeezed in next to the guest as they waited. He had to concentrate on not spilling any of his tea, the black haircloth divan was rattling so hard with their shock.

Kurtz had faced other murders as chief of police. Not enough to make it routine, though--usually one a year, or two; often, Boston would pass through a twelve-month period without a homicide worth noticing. Those few who were murdered were of the low sort, so it had not been a necessary part of Kurtz's position to console. He ...

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About This Guide

The novel The Dante Club is a story about what could be called America's first book club. Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell and their friends came together once a week to read and discuss Dante and Dante's relevance to their lives; in the process, their friendships evolved and strengthened in inspiring ways. In the fictional narrative of the novel, the outgrowth of their book club is the ability to uncover and stop a savage "misreading" of literature that threatens to destroy their city.

The Dante Club draws much of its energy from Dante's masterpiece, Inferno, and its first American translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Though readers can fully enjoy the novel without any knowledge of Dante, with the new ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Iain Pears, author of An Instance of the Fingerpost
A fascinating, erudite, and highly entertaining account of a remarkable moment in American literary history.

Author Blurb David Liss, Edgar Award–winning author of A Conspiracy of Paper
... a thoroughly accomplished first novel. Matthew Pearl does a marvelous job of evoking the period and making it come alive with finely drawn characters and an ingenious story.

Publisher's Weekly

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 ... is an ambitious and often entertaining thriller that may remind readers of Caleb Carr.

Kirkus Reviews - starred review

Ingenious use of details and motifs from the Divine Comedy, and a lively picture of the literary culture of post-bellum New England, distinguish this juicy debut historical mystery.

Library Journal - Laurel Bliss

Using historical figures in a mystery setting is not a new idea (e.g., Sir Isaac Newton plays detective in Philip Kerr's Dark Matter), but Pearl has proven himself a master.

Booklist - Kristine Huntley

Starred review. Expertly weaving period detail, historical fact (the Dante Club did indeed exist), complex character studies, and nail-biting suspense, Pearl has written a unique and utterly absorbing tale.

Esquire Magazine

Chosen as The Big Important Book of the Month Audacious and captivating... Don't be surprised if, after having read The Dante Club, you find yourself revisiting your old tattered college-issued Inferno. How much, it turns out, you've been missing.

Janet Maslin - The New York Times

Mr. Pearl, with this captivating brain teaser as his debut novel, seems also to have put his life's work on the line in melding scholarship with mystery. He does justice to both.

Bookpage Magazine

Matthew Pearl's dazzler of a debut novel, The Dante Club, is just what an historical thriller should be--a creative combo of edge-of-your-seat suspense, fully imagined characters, fictional and real, and an evocative, well-researched, well-realized setting.

The Wall Street Journal

Many American devotees may not know that they owe their first translation of The Divine Comedy to another great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The bard gave the New World not only its first taste of the Italian poet but, with Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell, its first Dante Society. This is the setting for Matthew Pearl's ambitious novel, The Dante Club.....Mr. Pearl's book will delight the Dante novice and expert alike.

San Jose Mercury News

There aren't many writers around who can remind you of both James Patterson and Umberto Eco.

The San Francisco Chronicle - David Lazarus

A hell of a first novel... 'The Dante Club' delivers in spades.

Reader Reviews
Lily

Tedious and Pretentious
Tedious and pretentious. The marketing of this novel was brilliant. People are afraid if they say they found it a huge bore they will be judged lacking erudition. The plot concept is intriguing but its execution lacks tension and momentum. The ...   Read More

Avid reader

Thriller?
The most thrilling experience I had with this book was watching it fly through the air toward my garbage can. Wooden characters and no discernible plot. Great descriptions of facial hair though!

Katie

AWESOME BOOK!!!

Christy

I've selected this book for my book club! It's got everything we enjoy -- history and mystery and more! I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good read!

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