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 soon 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.


... Earlier titles for the novel were The Bookaneer and The Bookaneers
... The character of Kitten appears in and Whiskey Bill is mentioned in Matthew Pearl's earlier novel, The Last Dickens
... To the left is an image of the Garrick Club in London, where the characters of Davenport and Fergins (the narrator of The Last Bookaneer) meet. Point your mouse over the image to see an etching circa 1872 by Edwin Austin Abbey of a bookstall similar to the kind Fergins operates.
... In early drafts of the novel, the character of Fergins appears in only a few scenes, and the story originally was told in third person narration rather than narrated by Fergins
... In the earliest drafts of the novel, the opening scenes took place in Paris with Pen Davenport retrieving a key, and then meeting Mark Twain at the Eiffel Tower restaurant
... The original concepts for the characters of the bookaneers were drawn from the experience of teaching a seminar at Harvard Law School on "The Literary Vision of Copyright"
... The 1886 painting in the background of this webpage, called "Coastal Landscape," is by Paul Gauguin, who, like Stevenson, spent his final years in the South Seas
... To the right is a political cartoon that appeared in the humor magazine, Punchinello, in 1870. It shows the literary pirates, appearing as actual pirates, seizing the "good ship 'Author'." Point your mouse over the image to see a portrait of Fletcher "Major" Harper, one of the piratical publishers portrayed in the cartoon.

"When it comes to educating and enthralling in the same breath, nobody tops Matthew Pearl. The Last Bookaneer is a riveting transatlantic adventure, a first-class exercise in intellectual history, and beneath its richly embroidered pages, a love letter to the written word. It reminds us why we love books in the first place." -- Louis Bayard, author of Roosevelt's Beast, The School of Night and The Pale Blue Eye

"This novel is about book lovers, for book lovers, written by a book lover. Matthew Pearl is the gold standard when it comes to historical mysteries, and THE LAST BOOKANEER is no exception--a wonderful tale of passion, intrigue, and the last days of Robert Louis Stevenson." -- Lyndsay Faye, author of Gods of Gotham and Seven for a Secret

"The 19th century can exercise a fascination for historical novelists, who catch echoes there of our own times. Contemporary concerns about intellectual property are certainly reflected in The Last Bookaneer, an ingenious thriller by Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club, which was set in 19th-century Boston. His latest is largely told by Fergins, an elderly bookseller in 1890s New York, who reveals to a younger friend the secrets of the bookaneers — literary pirates who once took advantage of the laxity of copyright law - and his journey years before with the most flamboyant of them, Pen Davenport, to Samoa, where Robert Louis Stevenson had made his home. Rumours of a great novel have reached Davenport, and he is determined to steal the manuscript. However, the complicated relationship the pair develop with the ailing genius, and the arrival of Davenport’s greatest rival, throw their plans into disarray. As in his earlier fiction, Pearl shows an admirable capacity for constructing an intriguing narrative around a nugget of historical information — in this case, the existence of the rapacious bookaneers." -- Sunday Times (London)

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