The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Colleagues Solve a Murder

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I don't know whether to praise this book to the heavens or warn yon reader not to touch with a ten foot pole.

But I jest.

First off, this book was selected by another member of my book club. I doubt such a title, or subject, would even pass my mental eyeballs should I see upon a browse of the library.

It's a story of a murderer loose in mid-19th century Boston. The intrigue comes by the group so involved with solving the murder as well as the fact that the murders are all horrific and follow the hard-to-overlook methodology of Dante Alighieri. Yes that's Dante of Heaven and Hell fame and for some reason his musing poetry is still celebrated today.

As I argued the night of our book club discussion, Stephen King could just as easily write a story of murdering a man by burying him face down into the earth then lighting fire to his feet that jutted above the surface and there'd be no need to call up some Italian poet from 1200 or so..

Dante had a thing for effecting long cruel deaths on people it would seem.

The best part of this book, which is well-written for the most part, is the group of poets, get this, assigned to find just who was murdering people all over the place in mid-19th century Boston.

As an aside, while the book was well written, by a graduate of Harvard no less, the plot of this thing was all over the place until my mind felt like an errant pinball was setting off bells in my weary brain. The author had no less than five endings to the thing.

It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who led the august group of poets (I still giggle at the thought of poets looking for murderers), Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes (father of the famous Supreme Court Justice), James Russell Lowell, poet, publisher J.T. Fields and historian, George Washington Greene. If you can imagine such a motley crew investigating a strange series of murders, throw in a mulatto detective, some evil Harvard "corporate" types and finally, the murderer, not anyone the reader would expect in any fashion whatsoever.

Only the group of poets, so skilled at finding murderers and the like, did NOT find the murderer so much that the murderer found THEM. At some point it looked like the whole lot of them would die buried alive in ice or via some other horrific method.

It was an intriguing read, yes it was. I quite enjoyed the close look at Longfellow, the most beloved poet America's ever introduced, the sub-story of Harvard, the academics versus the literati , yes, even the ending that lasted a lifetime.

I think this would be a terrific book for a college student to read, perhaps a student set to study Dante. I'd certainly consider putting this book on the syllabus to my students about to learn about American Literature and the names that preceded this era of the Internet.

Oh yes, for good measure the author throws in some Edgar Allen Poe and Daniel Webster.

It's a name-dropping murder mystery happening trip to the world of literature.

Who woulda thunk?

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