16 May 2010

Books: Drood by Dan Simmons (2009)

After his 2007 long novel The Terror, where author Dan Simmons took on a fictionalized look at what might have happened to the Franklin's lost expedition of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror between 1845 - 1848, now takes on a fictionalized account of the last five years of Charles Dickens' life told from the view point of Dickens' friend and fellow author Wilkie Collins. The title comes from Dickens' unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

This is a well-researched novel, much like The Terror, which mixes factual biography from the lives of Dickens, Collins, and other literary and historical figures of the Victorian era with a complex plot, complicated even further by an unreliable narrator. Wilkie Collins, perhaps the first writer to pen a book in the genre known today as mystery and suspense, and Charles Dickens are friends first, rivals later, when it comes to writing. And from there, Simmons draws us readers into a deft plot of horror, mystery, drug addiction, and the enigmas of the mind.

The characters come off the page as real now as they were (hopefully) a hundred and fifty years ago. The story begins with the real-life train accident that Dickens was involved with (which also included his secret mistress) in June of 1865, which seems to change his life forever. It continues with Wilkie Collins assumption that the accident caused Dickens to begin a deadly second life, with trips to the underbelly of London, and his obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, and the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies.

Dickens claims its all research for his next novel, but is this mere research leading to something more terrifying?

So with Drood, Simmons (like many authors have tried since Dickens’ death in 1870), explores the unsolved mysteries of the author's last years and also may provide (again, as many have done over the years) the key to Dickens' final, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

It’s a chilling, staggering novel that shows us that there are still powerful writers in the world who can put out an impressive, totally original work of fiction that is also very entertaining.

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