book'a-neer' (bŏŏk'kå-nēr'), n. a literary pirate; an individual capable of doing all that must be done in the universe of books that publishers, authors, and readers must not have a part in
London, 1890—Pen Davenport is the most infamous bookaneer in Europe. A master of disguise, he makes his living stalking harbors, coffeehouses, and print shops for the latest manuscript to steal. But this golden age of publishing is on the verge of collapse. For a hundred years, loose copyright laws and a hungry reading public created a unique opportunity: books could easily be published without an author’s permission. Authors gained fame but suffered financially—Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few—but publishers reaped enormous profits while readers bought books inexpensively. Yet on the eve of the twentieth century, a new international treaty is signed to grind this literary underground to a sharp halt. The bookaneers are on the verge of extinction.
From the author of The Dante Club, Matthew Pearl, The Last Bookaneer is the astonishing story of these literary thieves’ epic final heist. On the island of Samoa, a dying Robert Louis Stevenson labors over a new novel. The thought of one last book from the great author fires the imaginations of the bookaneers, and soon Davenport sets out for the South Pacific island. As always, Davenport is reluctantly accompanied by his assistant Fergins, who is whisked across the world for one final caper. Fergins soon discovers the supreme thrill of aiding Davenport in his quest to steal Stevenson’s manuscript and make a fortune before the new treaty ends the bookaneers’ trade forever. But Davenport is hardly the only bookaneer with a mind to pirate Stevenson’s last novel. His longtime adversary, the monstrous Belial, appears on the island, and soon Davenport, Fergins, and Belial find themselves embroiled in a conflict larger, perhaps, than literature itself.
In The Last Bookaneer, Pearl crafts a finely wrought tale about a showdown between brilliant men in the last great act of their professions. It is nothing short of a page-turning journey to the heart of a lost era.
“[A] historical jigsaw puzzle of literary larceny, deception, and derring-do…[A] richly imagined account… The elite bookaneers were also vindictive, spiteful and viciously ambitious, and Pearl has buckets of fun exploring this world of thieves, spies, smugglers, and tricksters in detailed depth…Packed with bookish love and intrigue, THE LAST BOOKANEER winningly transforms what Pearl notes in his afterword as a ‘fragment of legal and publishing history’ into fictional magic.”
“Matthew Pearl has a particular specialty: finding an obscure corner of 19th-century history and spinning from it literary fiction that is thought-provoking, enlightening, smoothly written — and a ripping good story to boot…[THE LAST BOOKANEER is] another bracing adventure set in the world of 19th-century literature lovers…Pearl is a demon researcher, but THE LAST BOOKANEER wears those studies lightly — there’s not a single dull lecture hall in sight. The author’s passion for detail, combined with his gift for balancing a leisurely pace with fast-moving action, makes for a deeply satisfying experience.”
The Maine Edge:
“One more example of [Pearl’s] ability to bring history’s people and places to vividly compelling life…Fast-paced and smart and thoughtful - an altogether outstanding read...Pearl has taken a relatively minor historical footnote and spun a thrilling, fascinating tale of literary intrigue. The richness of the backdrop – particularly the portrayal of Samoa – is textured and nuanced. The reader tumbles headlong into the world being created, borne across the land and sea by Pearl’s intricate narrative and expressive prose.”
Fans of Pearl will love the journey in this latest historical thriller. The amount of time and effort that went into conducting the appropriate research is evident throughout the book and it brings to light an era of publishing that is as fascinating as it is unknown. In a time where digital media is changing the landscape of the publishing industry, this book reminds us that the means by which a story is delivered is not as important as what we take from it.
Kirkus (starred review):
“An entertaining adventure tale steeped in literary history…[Pearl] offers many of the charms and unrushed distractions of a favorite old bookstore.”
Library Journal (starred review):
“This swashbuckling tale of greed and great literature will remind you why Pearl is the reigning king of popular literary historical thrillers. His latest is guaranteed to delight lovers of history and mystery.”
“In the days before e-books, self-publishing, and fan fiction, publishing was an even riskier undertaking—or so Pearl makes an entertaining case for in his latest, ingenious literary caper…Pearl gives the bookaneers a lively fictitious history…and populates it with a colorful cast of roguish characters…A loving testament to the enduring power of paper books.”
“Writing mischievously clever novels about famous writers is Pearl’s forte…Passionately researched and ebulliently imagined…Pearl’s vividly descriptive and energetically plotted novel churns and charms with intriguing literary history, acid social critique, witty dialogue, and delectably surprising and diabolical reversals and betrayals.”
Praise for THE DANTE CLUB
Janet Maslin, The New York Times:
"Working on a vast canvas, Mr. Pearl keeps this mystery sparkling with erudition... 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."
Kimberley Strassel, The Wall Street Journal:
"Mr. Pearl's triumph is mixing these two cultures: wealthy, cultivated men of letters faced with the mysterious and seedy streets of a 19th-century Boston... creating not just a page-turner but a beguiling look at the U.S. in an era when elites shaped the course of learning and publishing. With this story of the Dante Club's own descent into hell, Mr. Pearl's book will delight the Dante novice and expert alike."
Carlo Wolff, The Boston Globe:
"How the club and the police compete and then converge is the mystery and the thrill in a preternaturally accomplished book as wise as it is entertaining. The Dante Club is a carefully plotted, imaginatively shaped, and stylistically credible whodunit of unusual class and intellect... The writing is passionate, the narrative driven."
David Lazarus, The San Francisco Chronicle:
"A hell of a first novel... The Dante Club delivers in spades."
Adrienne Miller, Esquire:
"Audacious and captivating."
Julie K. L. Dam, People Magazine (Page Turner of the Week):
"Pearl, a graduate of Harvard and Yale Law School and a Dante scholar, ably meshes the literary analysis with a suspenseful plot and in the process humanizes the historical figures... A divine mystery."