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on 14 March 2003
Every once in a while a novel comes along and is simply stunning in every way. The last novel I was this excited about was Donna Tartt's The Secret History, and in my opinion this novel is just as good as. For those of you like me who knew nothing (and I mean nothing) about Dante, this novel offers a fascinating introduction of Dante and his work. Think of the combination, we have Dante, an insightful look into 19th Century history, a setting in smouldering Boston that you can almost smell, a killer on the loose more sadistic than any other indiviudal I have come across in print, a group of unlikely heroes using 19th century detective work, and you have a mix that is simply unbeatable. I simply could not put this book down. I read it waiting for public transport, travelling on public transport, getting off public transport, walking to and from work, and last thing at night. Give it a try, you'll have bitten every fingernail off, by the time you get to the last chapter.
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on 17 December 2006
"The Dante Club", Matthew Pearl's first novel, is the kind of book that manages to combine suspense, history and literature successfully, engaging the reader and making him care about what is going to happen next.

The story takes place in 1865 Boston, where a group of friends that include poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, writer and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes and poet James Russell Lowell, among others, decide to form a Dante Club in order to produce an English translation of Dante's "Divine Comedy". Many people are against this endeavour, as they believe Dante's "Divine Comedy" to be dangerous reading material, but our academics are steadfast in their devotion to Dante. However, they begin to get nervous when a madman that seems to be delivering the punishments Dante Alighieri talks about in his "Inferno" (= "Hell", one of the three books in which the "Divine Comedy" is divided) starts killing people in Boston. Trying to avoid a death blow to Dante's reputation even before the American public can read his translated works, the members of the Dante Club decide to catch the killer by themselves. That is easier said than done, but makes for a very entertaining book.

From my point of view, "The Dante Club" is a perfect choice for Dante's fans, but also for those that just want to buy something interesting to read in their spare time. If you already love Dante, you will enjoy the way in which Matthew Pearl makes the "Divine Comedy" an integral part of this book; if you are new to Dante's works, you will learn about him and his books at the same time you read an original whodunit. In any case, you are highly likely to love "The Dante Club". Of course, recommended!

Belen Alcat
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on 27 January 2004
This book probably falls into the category of a thriller, but it is oh so much more. It is literate and poetic, but in a dynamic way. There are threads of poetry running from Dante to Longfellow and his friends who are some of the greatest minds of their day.
They are the most unlikely of heroes, but I loved their characters. They may be getting on a bit in years, but they are clever, brave and resourcful in tracking down the fiend who murders his victims using methods of punishment taken from Dante's inferno. These are also people who have a great friendship and affection for each other and you feel part of that circle of friends.
I had many theories as to the identity of the murderer, but I truly didn't guess who it was until the exciting climax of the book.
I did not want the book to end and I have been making up for that by reading poems by Longfellow that I had forgotten that I knew. These include his wonderful translation of the Divine Comedy.
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HALL OF FAMEon 21 January 2003
If, 'The Dante Club", is an indication of what readers may expect from future works by Mr. Matthew Pearl, a great new novelist has arrived. Mr. Pearl has not just taken a great setting and a great tale, but he has added notable historical figures as well as one of the most noted pieces of literature ever written, and molded them in to a wonderful mystery on the streets of Boston in 1865. He also has not hesitated to take venerable institutions to task, regardless of their presumed august positions when they stoop to hypocrisy or other unsavory acts.
The work of Dante was virtually unknown in this period of Boston's history except by the very few and equally few well educated. It was considered modern, controversial, and an affront to the classics that were taught at institutions like Harvard University. And then there is The Dante club whose members include Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Russell Lowell who are in the process of bringing out the first English translation of Dante's work for American readers. Powerful forces such as Harvard, amongst others, are against it, nevertheless the group proceeds week by week and level by level through the world of Dante as they prepare their publication. The process is closely guarded with their publisher knowing the full contents of their progress and other confidants having only the knowledge that their work proceeds.
But prior to publication meticulous Dantean murders occur, but knowledge of the translation is not well known, it is not even complete, and yet the murders are carried out with an exactitude that only a scholar of Dante's work would have access to. And just as Dante fits his punishments to a crime of specificity, this murderer too follows the famous work in the most exacting detail.
These are the circumstances that author Matthew Pearl arranges in his debut work, "The Dante Club", and the tour he takes readers upon is literate, well-constructed and erudite. The author was honored in 1998 when he was awarded The Dante Prize for his scholarly work by The Dante Club of America. This is a novelist that has the credentials to effectively combine his formal education in Dante with great skill as a writer of fiction.
There are many new authors that debut every year. There are far fewer who will return a second time, or even if they do will have their subsequent work noticed. I believe Matthew Pearl will be the exception. He is no one trick wonder, and no sophomore jinx awaits him either. He is very bright, as his accomplishments at Harvard and Yale have demonstrated, and he is most capable with a pen as, "The Dante Club" has shown.
Read this young man's first work, you will have the experience of excellent writing, a wonderful use of your reading time, and the pleasure of having discovered this young author on his first venture in to the eye of the public.
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VINE VOICEon 20 May 2004
I think some of the reviewers are being a bit unfair to The Dante Club because it falls between several stools. Ostensibly about a serial killer who terrorises late 19th century Boston by emulating punishments from Dante's Hell, it is never a simple detective yarn. The depth of well researched characterisation and political analysis of Post Civil War Boston society gives it a much richer environment than the normal pulp fiction but inevitably slows the impatient reader's pace. Yes, the plot is slow to get moving but, to be fair, when it does the action is engaging and by and large believeable, with sympathetic characters and fascinating little diversions along the way. The plotting is quite complex but satisfyingly so in the end and not confused. By the end i felt both stimulated and edified. A refreshing change to standard detective fare. If you like it you'll probably also enjoy Iain Pears' "Instance of the Fingerpost", Caleb Carr's "The Alienist", Charles Palliser's "The Unburied" & "Qunicunx" and, of course, Eco's "Name of the Rose".
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on 31 March 2005
Once again I find myself opposite a tide of favorable opinion regarding a popular new book. I was, of course, excited to read Matthew Pearl's notable first novel, The Dante Club, both because of the many positive reviews and the historical context. I'm a sucker for historical figures in fictional situations and my tastes lean toward the lowbrow, so if the historical figures are running around solving mysteries, so much the better.
My excitement with The Dante Club, however, dissolved to dismay and ended in disgust. I have very few kind words to offer about this weak and pompous offering about Boston's foremost Dante scholars solving a series of grisly murders that mimic the punishments Dante doled out to the damned in his Inferno.
Hard to believe, but in post-Civil War America, Dante Alighieri had not yet become the college student's worst enemy. His seminal work, The Divine Comedy, had not yet been completely translated from the Italian. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, along with Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and publisher JT Fields are working on just such a project when they are approached by the police, in the person of Nicholas Rey, Boston's first black officer, with a scrap of paper on which is scrawled a phrase in Italian. The paper is related to a murder on which Rey is working. In the first of many befuddling moves, the Dante Club, as these scholars call themselves, elects to keep mum, both in the translation of the paper and when it becomes clear to them that the murders are Dante-related. In true mystery style, the group decides to investigate themselves.
It's clear that author Pearl has done scads of research about the principle characters and wanted to bring them to vivid life within the pages of The Dante Club. But it seems equally clear that this research was his undoing. He throws too much data at we poor readers, without the skill required to make it seem effortless or natural. He delves too deeply into the personal lives of Longfellow, portrayed as a spectral weakling unable to recover from his wife's death, and Holmes, who just can't seem to get along with his adult son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who would go on to become one of America's foremost jurists.
These characterizations may be acurate, but the disproportionate amount of space spent recounting them is both unnecessary and distracting. Certainly, there is a secret joke in Holmes, Sr., chastising Holmes, Jr., for studying law and telling him there is no future in it, when we, from the perspective of history, know that Jr. would serve on the Supreme Court for thirty years, but it is completely unnecessary to the story. Equally frivolous is the amount of time spent examining the underbelly of academic politics.
Pearl includes a note at the end of this novel that indicates he recreated much of the language and dialogue from the "poems, essays, novels, journals, and letters of the Dante Club members and those closest to them." Ah! That would explain why most of the dialogue spoken by the Dante Club members sounds stilted, pompous and, at times, comically inept! People do not write the way they speak and, rather than bring these famous figures to life, Pearl embalms them in their own words, making them sound effete and foolish.
Most interesting is the character of Rey, the black cop, who is unwanted by his white counterparts and those he serves and protects. Though no such police officer existed in postwar Boston, Pearl uses Rey as a vehicle to introduce us to the racial difficulties arising from the Civil War. He is also useful device for prolonging the story, since, because he is black, none of Rey's fellow policement believe his theories and won't commit resources to following his investigative intuition. If he's been white, the book might have been a hundred pages shorter.
The plot itself is surprisingly reasonable. When we learn how all the pieces fit together, it makes sense and I reluctantly applaud Pearl for this. But other clunky moments are just unbelievable, like the Club's decision to stonewall the police for fear their translation of Dante will be shelved and they themselves might be considered suspects. What? Let's not help catch a violent killer so our book can be published? This is not consistent with what I know of Longfellow and his crew.
Overall, The Dante Club is a long, dull look into the pettiness of American academia with occasional spikes of interest that come with descriptions of the violent killings. It doesn't hold a candle to Caleb Carr's "The Alienist", despite what other reviewers have said.
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on 16 June 2014
A good if slightly heavy read that demands attention. Some really good twists and a convincing 'baddie' The plot was slightly fantastic but this made it all the more believable. Good for anyone with more than a 10 minute attention span
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on 15 September 2006
The title pretty much sums it up for me; I felt the novel was overly long and lacking in pace, had way to much detail in areas that didn't need it and really didn't give any depth the chief protagonist! However, to the beginning...

Set in the dangerous times of post civil war Boston, 4 men set themselves apart from the establishment in search of academic adventure and development. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, J.T. Fields and James Russell Lowell are in pursuit of the first English translation of Dante's the Divine Comedy but they have powerful observers onside...

The Harvard Corporation believe Dante's masterpiece to be sacrilege and are doing their utmost to scuppers its publication but a more sinister man has found inspiration in it. A man determined to read a bloody revenge under the books instruction.

I wish this unnamed assailant had played a more prominent role in the book as his motivations could have been so much better explored instead of the 40 or so pages we were allowed to see. This for me drastically let the book down. On top of this all 4 major characters (as well as sundry other secondary characters) are frankly pretty unlikable which means you find your mind wondering in times you really need to concentrate.

This book is well crafted from a man who clearly knows his subject but in terms of fictional credibility I found it lacking. I don't know if it is the same in the UK version (I picked my copy up in Mexico) but there was a foreword from an eminent US professor who cities a eureka moment that this book is supposed to have uncovered. I truly wish he would let me in on it as I found any historical insights to be surely lacking.
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on 26 November 2004
Like the majority of reviewers, I found that this book improved as it went along. The first 100 pages or so are turgid in the extreme - apart from the first of the murders, virtually nothing of note happens and far too much time is devoted to the workings of the Dante Club and the introduction of the (too numerous) members of it. I struggled to distinguish between the two 'main' protagonists Lowell and Holmes, despite the acres of print devoted to their introduction and there are many extraneous diversions into matters not strictly, or even slightly, relevant to plot development. However, the book does pick up pace in the last third and the identity of the murderer is well concealed until the last moment. Overall, it is worth the effort, but some tighter editing would have helped and there is a slight 'dissertation' feeling hanging over the whole project.
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on 13 February 2014
I tried hard to read this book - I love historical fiction, and the Inferno. I cannot remember the last time I gave up on a book; but I got to p67 without engaging with any of the characters, and being infuriated by the turgid, meaningless dialogue. The author's research is evident; but I wish that he had tried to make it sound less like an over-egged 19thC paid-by-the-word tome. There are enough of those lining second-hand bookshelves, unsaleable, without adding another.
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