Printer Friendly

The Last Bookaneer.


The Last Bookaneer

By Matthew Pearl

The award-winning, New York Times best-selling author Matthew Pearl specializes in literary historical thrillers featuring well-known writers. His novels include The Dante Club (*** May/June 2003), The Poe Shadow (** Sept/Oct 2006), The Last Dickens (*** July/Aug 2009), as well as other books. The Last Bookaneer is set just before the International Copyright Act of 1891, when the pirating of books was rampant.

THE STORY: The unfinished novel The Shovels of Newton French is rumored to be Robert Louis Stevenson's final, and best, book--but in Pearl's tale of literary intrigue, nothing is safe from thieves hoping to acquire the manuscript at great profit. In the 1890s, just before the international copyright became American statute, two infamous literary pirates (or "bookaneers"), Davenport (accompanied by his sidekick Fergins) and his adversary Belial (posing as a missionary), set out separately for the frail Stevenson's final place of residence in Samoa to pilfer the manuscript and sell it to a New York publisher before the copyright law goes into effect. Amid the lush island landscape, Daveport, Fergins (who later relates this epic tale to a young railway waiter), and Belial become embroiled in a large, dangerous showdown and a race against time.

Penguin. 400 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9781594204920

Boston Globe ****

"There are secret letters, eureka moments, and notes written in invisible ink as well as discoveries of works-in-progress and early pages of already-published works. The quick scams and long cons unspool in a labyrinthian-and-semi-comedic fashion that recalls, at its wittiest, a literary equivalent of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." DANEET STEFFENS

Christian Science Monitor ****

"Pearl has many considerable strengths: he's deeply knowledgeable about the history of literature, he seems to have an infinite capacity to generate plot lines and clever dialogue, and he imbues settings across the globe with tangible reality. ... The denouement feels more like the solution to a complex logic puzzle than the resolution of a story" NICK ROMEO

Newsday ***1/2

"After a slow buildup, The Last Bookaneer really takes off once Davenport and Fergins arrive on the Samoan island, hoping to beat Belial to the prize.... In writing dialogue, however, Pearl occasionally falters" CARMELA CIURARU

Guardian (UK) ***

"This relay narration [between Fergins and Clover] is presumably intended to echo the structure used by Stevenson for the story of Jekyll and Hyde, but results in moments when, with Fergins telling Clover what Davenport and Belial said to someone else, it can be hard to follow the voices, especially when, during the Samoan action, Clover suddenly asks supplementary questions in italics from the railway dining car.... Though writing about the time when universal copyright arrived, Pearl seems also to be contemplating the end of literature as a business." MARK LAWSON

Independent (UK) ***

"Along with adopting Stevenson's twice-told tale style, Pearl assumes a Stevensonian air in the lush descriptions of tropical island life, dusky natives, cave-dwelling cannibals, and hair-raising cross-country pursuits.... It seems that Pearl has nothing new to say about Stevenson: his depiction is a familiar one from photographs and biographies." JANETTE CURRIE

Kansas City Star ***

"About two-thirds of the way through, once the Samoan adventure is over, the theme overruns the plot.... All of this isn't to say the book won't be a great poolside read." ANNE KNIGGENDORF

NY Times Book Review **1/2

"Despite his attempts to depict an enlightened Robert Louis Stevenson, many elements of Pearl's plot are surprisingly typical: a great white father, loyal brown servants, a beautiful (and, of course, bare-breasted) native girl, dangerous cannibals lurking in the forests and severed heads on stakes.... But if the novel is a sendup of the sorts of stories that Stevenson--or Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard--actually wrote, it doesn't sound like one." JOHN VERNON


"Because this is a Matthew Pearl novel, certain elements are guaranteed: duplicity, intrigue, brilliant criminals and meticulously layered plot twists," notes the Newsday critic. Readers will certainly find some familiar elements here, including the literary premise, ample literary allusions, and even a few characters from previous novels. But set on a lush, sweltering island, readers will also encounter cannibals, an amorous dwarf, slaves, European imperialists, Catholic missionaries, and tribal politics. Although Pearl takes great artistic license when imagining the bookaneer's shady trade, his heist caper and literary thriller rely on historical fact. However, the novel is at times overly plotted (including the style of the twice-told tale) and digressive, which make for an entertaining but sometimes frustrating read. Still, the novel is provocative, and it provides an opportunity to intelligently comment "on writers, bibliophiles and publishers, with sly allusions to today's changing and threatened book culture" (New York Times Book Review).



A timeless book to be read by all


One of the best of its genre

*** GOOD

Enjoyable, particularly for fans of the genre


Some problems, approach with caution


Not worth your time
COPYRIGHT 2015 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Steffens, Daneet; Romeo, Nick; Ciuraru, Carmela; Lawson, Mark; Currie, Janette; Kniggendorf, Anne; V
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2015
Previous Article:Confession of the Lioness.
Next Article:In the Unlikely Event.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters