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The Last Dickens: A Novelby Matthew Pearl
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter 1 ... Bengal, India, June 1870
Neither of the young mounted policemen fancied these subdivisions of the Bagirhaut province. Neither of them fancied jungles where all manner of things could happen unprovoked, unseen, as they had a few years before when a poor lieutenant was stripped, clubbed, and drowned in the river for trying to collect licensing taxes.
The officers clamped the heels of their boots tighter into their horses' flanks. Not to say they were scared-only careful.
You must be careful always, said Turner to Mason as they ducked the low branches and vines. Be assured, the natives in India do not value life. Not even as the poorest Englishman does.
The younger of the two policemen, Mason, nodded thoughtfully at the words of his impressive partner, who was nearly twenty-five years old, who had two brothers also come from England to be in Indian Civil Service, and who had fought the Indian rebellion a few years before. He was an expert if ever one was.
Perhaps we should have come with more men, sir.
“Well, that's pretty More men, Mason? We shan't need any more than our two heads between us to take in a few ragged dacoits. Remember, a high-mettled horse stands not for hedge nor ditch.
When Mason had arrived in Bengal from Liverpool for his new post, he accepted Turner's offer to chum, pooling incomes and living expenses and passing their free time in billiards or croquet. Mason, at eighteen, was thankful for counsel from such an experienced man in the ranks of the Bengal police. Turner could list places a policeman ought never to ride alone because of the Coles, the Santhals, the Assamee, the Kookies, and the hill tribes in the frontiers. Some of the criminal gangs among the tribes were dacoits, thieves; others, warned Turner, carried axes and wanted English heads. The natives of India value life only as far as they can kill when doing so, was another Turner proverb.
Fortunately, they were not hunting out that sort of bloodthirsty gang in these wasting temperatures this morning. Instead they were investigating a plain, brazen robbery. The day before, a long train of twenty or thirty bullock carts had been hit with a shower of stones and rocks. In the chaos, dacoits holding torches tipped over the carts and fled with valuable chests from the convoy. When intelligence of the theft reached the police station, Turner had gone to their supervisor's desk to volunteer himself and Mason, and their commander had sent them to question a known receiver of stolen goods.
Now, as the terrain thinned, they neared the small thatched house on the creek. A dwindling column of smoke hovered above the mud chimney. Mason gripped the sword at his belt. Every two men in the Bengal police were assigned one sword and one light carbine rifle, and Turner had naturally claimed the rifle.
Mason, he said with a slight smile in his voice after noticing the anxious look on his partner's face. You are green, aren’t you? It is highly likely they have unloaded the goods and fled already. Perhaps for the mountains, where our elaka-that is like ‘jurisdiction, ' Mason—where our elaka does not extend. No matter, really, when captured, they lie and say they are innocent peasants until the corrupt darkie magistrates release them. What do you say to going tiger shooting upon some elephants?
When Daniel Sand's body is discovered by the docks where he awaited Charles Dickens's unfinished novel, publishing partner James Osgood and Rebecca Sand, Daniel's sister, attempt to uncover Dickens's final mystery, and they soon become entangled in a sinister plot that takes them from the fancy auction houses of London to the dark hearts of opium dens.
In his most enthralling novel yet, the critically acclaimed author Matthew Pearl reopens one of literary history’s greatest mysteries. The Last Dickens is a tale filled with the dazzling twists and turns, the unerring period details, and the meticulous research that thrilled readers of the bestsellers The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow.
Boston, 1870. When news of Charles Dickens’s untimely death reaches the office of his struggling American publisher, Fields & Osgood, partner James Osgood sends his trusted clerk Daniel Sand to await the arrival of Dickens’s unfinished novel. But when Daniel’s body is discovered by the docks and the manuscript is nowhere to be found, Osgood must embark on a transatlantic quest to unearth the novel that he hopes will save his venerable business and reveal Daniel’s killer.
Danger and intrigue abound on the journey to England, for which Osgood has chosen Rebecca Sand, Daniel’s older sister, to assist him. As they attempt to uncover Dickens’s final mystery, Osgood and Rebecca find themselves racing the clock through a dangerous web of literary lions and drug dealers, sadistic thugs and blue bloods, and competing members of Dickens’s inner circle. They soon realize that understanding Dickens’s lost ending is a matter of life and death, and the hidden key to stopping a murderous mastermind.
About the Author
Matthew Pearl is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow, and the editor of the Modern Library editions of Dante’s Inferno (translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales. Pearl is a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School and has taught literature at Harvard and at Emerson College. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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