More praise for The Last Bookaneer:

"An entertaining adventure tale steeped in literary history tells of rival book pirates seeking their biggest prize, the last novel of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94). Pearl (The Technologists, 2012, etc.) extrapolates from a scrap of history about the illicit 19th-century trade in books before the international copyright law of 1891 to imagine a busy demimonde of bookaneers (he says in an afterword he found the term used as early as 1837) working in New York and London. He brings in the characters Whiskey Bill and Kitten from his 2009 novel, The Last Dickens, both central to subplots in the present novel. The main plot has the two leading bookaneers, Davenport and Belial, vying for the Stevenson prize by voyaging to Samoa, where the author of Treasure Island has established himself as a sort of philosopher-king. Davenport has a sidekick named Fergins, a former bookseller, who plays Watson to his companion's Holmes. As usual with Pearl, sleuthing helps drive the story, especially when Davenport uses his keen eye and deductive skills to investigate Kitten's death after her great coup, finding a Mary Shelley manuscript. Mostly the story dawdles on Samoa, waiting for the great author to finish his masterpiece and for a chance to outwit the devilish Belial. Pearl has fun with cannibals, a native beauty, an amorous dwarf, myriad literary references and allusions, and not one but two neat twists as the tale winds down. He also plays with narrative voices, delivering most of the story through Fergins' memories of it but as told to Clover, a black railway porter befriended by the bookseller and a key figure in the final twist. The narrative device adds another layer of 19th-century literary atmosphere. Pearl is a smooth writer whose adoption of the ambling pace, digressions, and melodrama of an earlier literary era may not suit today's instant gratifiers, but he offers many of the charms and unrushed distractions of a favorite old bookstore." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"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. Among his previous works are “The Poe Shadow,” which postulates an answer to the writer’s enigmatic death, and “The Last Dickens,” about a daring search for the author’s final, unfinished manuscript. Sound dry? Hardly. Pearl’s work is always seasoned with an assortment of vivid figures: scalawags, brave heroes, murderers and the like, echoing the melodramatic tone of much of the era’s literature. The Boston writer’s latest is “The Last Bookaneer”, another bracing adventure set in the world of 19th-century literature lovers. “Bookaneers” were literary pirates who took advantage of the era’s lack of international-copyright law to sell, without permission, unpublished manuscripts by famous writers. (Pearl explains in an afterword that the term dates from at least the 1830s.) In this case, it’s 1891 and two bitter rivals, Pen Davenport and the sinisterly named Belial, are vying for a genuine treasure: Robert Louis Stevenson’s final novel. To this end they journey to Samoa, where the charismatic, world-famous Stevenson has set himself up as a philosopher-king, claiming dominion over a vast estate and gaining the absolute loyalty of a large staff. But he’s deathly ill and determined to finish one last manuscript. Davenport and Belial insinuate themselves into Stevenson’s circle, disguised respectively as a writer and missionary. Each hopes to wait until the manuscript is complete, steal it — and then get away alive, since Stevenson’s minions would unhesitatingly kill the thief. Pearl expertly evokes the half-idyllic, half-fierce Samoa of those days. (There’s a whiff here of Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel “Heart of Darkness,” which also examines “civilized” versus “savage” society. Meanwhile, Stevenson’s role as a self-appointed tribal chief nicely mirrors Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz.) Pearl has provided a number of colorful fictional secondary characters, including Stevenson’s spirited wife Fanny, a beautiful, resourceful servant and her dwarf bodyguard — not to mention some scary cannibals. The tale is related by Fergins, a mild-mannered bookseller who becomes Davenport’s sidekick. Fergins’ audience for his narrative is Clover, a railway porter with an appetite for literature. Clover, at first just an avid listener, proves crucial to one of the clever twists at the book’s end. 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." -- Seattle Times

"'Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest. Yo-ho-ho and a trunk full of manuscripts!' At the tail end of the 19th century copyright law has yet to be established and publishers are making a killing by printing unauthorized editions. In this world of literary piracy the men and women employed to do the dirty work of procuring the unpublished texts are called bookaneers. When a young bookseller named Fergins is swept off to the South Pacific island of Samoa by his mentor Pen Davenport, he becomes involved in one of the last great adventures of bookaneering, involving dodging missionaries, cannibals, German settlers, and a dastardly competitor for a treasure of unknown value—the latest and, possibly, last novel of Robert Louis Stevenson. VERDICT This swashbuckling tale of greed and great literature will remind you why Pearl (The Dante Club; The Poe Shadow) is the reigning king of popular literary historical thrillers. His latest is guaranteed to delight lovers of history and mystery and will likely find an enthusiastic crossover audience among those who enjoy the works of Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Watcher in the Shadows), Erik Larson (In the Garden of Beasts), and Katherine Howe (The House of Velvet and Glass)."-- Library Journal (starred review)

"What is a 'bookaneer'? A literary pirate, apparently, in the days before the American drew up their copyright laws in teh middle of the 19th century... The greatest bookaneers in the world are racing to the island of Samoa, where one of the world's greatest bestsellers is dying but rumored to be finishing one final masterpiece. He is Robert Louis Stevenson, and a typically RLS sense of adventure gallops through every page. The elaborate plot is a mixture of classic heist and literary history lesson; the whole Victorian world of letters is cleverly and wittily reimagined." -- Times (London)

"The Last Bookaneer is entertaining, well constructed and timely in its imaginative investigation into literary piracy. Populated by bibliophiles who will get their hands on books by any means necessary, it's a seductive read for anyone similarly obsessed." -- Newsday

"Another giant who bestrode the Victorian era like a colossus, the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, is the focus of a second towering imaginative feat of fictional recreation by Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club. Stevenson, the creator of Treasure Island, ended his days on a real island, the South Seas paradise of Samoa, where he held court as a sort of chieftain, revered by the Samoans as ‘Tusitala’ — ‘the teller of tales’. Into this Eden trespass two serpents: Pen Davenport and his mortal enemy Belial, the ‘Bookaneers’. They are literary pirates set on plundering Stevenson’s legacy, and, in the process, destroying each other with a ruthlessness worthy of Long John Silver himself. Pearl’s interweaving of this fictional rivalry with the actual story of Stevenson’s last days, as he struggles to complete a final masterpiece that the ‘Bookaneers’ are equally set on stealing, is masterly story-telling almost worthy of Tusitala himself." -- Daily Mail

"The Last Bookaneer is a celebration of the written word." -- Christian Science Monitor

"Matthew Pearl’s historical jigsaw puzzle of literary larceny, deception, and derring-do... 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." -- Boston Globe

"The Last Bookaneer is a rollicking romp in which the publishing industry is depicted as a business as scintillating as mining for gold. Equal parts adventure on teh South Seas and literary fiction set in civilized and cerebral England, this story is chock full of sly remarks skewering the publishing industry. The questions of intellectual property faced in the 1890s are just as complex and engaging as those we encounter in today's technological world. As in his previous work, Matthew Pearl seamlessly braids fact and fiction into an imaginative yarn that will enthrall bibliophiles and adventure fans alike."-- Bookpage Magazine

"In this rollicking page-turner, Pearl shines light on the shocking and little-known historical practice of stealing authors’ work, publishing it without their permission, then selling it for cheap, wrapping it up into an imagined account of crafty “bookaneer” Pen Davenport. At the end of the 19th century, just as the law was cracking down on these manuscript thefts, Pen races to reach a dying Robert Louis Stevenson—and steal what might be his final book—before his nemesis does. This grand literary adventure will sweep you off your feet."--Barnes and Noble Reads

"An enthralling, unusual story, filled with adventure and deceit, that has something interesting to say about the perpetually tangled relationship between literature and commerce."--BBC History Magazine

"Historical fiction can be a tricky business. Its success relies heavily on an author finding a way to strike the delicate balance between historical accuracy and narrative engagement. Lean too far one way, you’ve got an overly dry, academic-feeling bore. Too far the other, you’ve got a story that – regardless of overall quality - warrants air-quotes around the word “historical.” Matthew Pearl has long had the knack for finding the center of the historical fiction Venn diagram. His latest – “The Last Bookaneer” (Penguin Press) – is just one more example of his ability to bring history’s people and places to vividly compelling life. Just before the turn of the century, a perfect storm was occurring in the literary realm. The popularity of books was exploding and copyright law (both domestic and international) struggled to keep up. This led to the brief blossoming of the bookaneers – men and women devoted to smuggling illicit pages from country to country and continent to continent, selling the best and brightest of books to the highest bidder. In that environment, permission took a back seat to simple possession; if you had it first, you were the one able to reap the benefits – regardless of what the publishers or authors might otherwise desire. Mr. Fergins is a humble bookseller, living out his golden years pushing a cart up and down a passenger train. However, he is a man with a past – a past he willingly lays out for a voracious young reader of his acquaintance. His is the story of the last days of the bookaneers and his time with one of the giants of the trade, a man named Pen Davenport. Fergins had served at the pleasure of Mr. Davenport for some time; however, a new international treaty promises to bring literary piracy to screeching halt. The end of the bookaneering era is at hand. However, Davenport enlists Fergins for one last mission, a voyage to the South Seas to track down a written treasure that will likely prove to be one of the most elusive (and lucrative) acquisitions of Davenport’s lengthy career. Rumor has it that Robert Louis Stevenson – perhaps the single most popular literary figure of the time – has relocated his entire family to Samoa in an effort to escape the omnipresent eyes of the publishing world. However, according to these same rumors, Stevenson is also working on his final novel, a magnum opus that some believe will be the greatest of his many great works. Suffice it to say, Pen Davenport wants those pages. Fergins embraces the intrigue of the opportunity – not to mention the promised good fortune – but it soon becomes clear that they were not the sole recipients of that rumor. There are others; rivals to Davenport who are capable of doing anything to get Stevenson’s words for themselves. Soon, Fergins and Davenport are embroiled in a conflict far larger than they ever could have imagined – a conflict with potentially far-reaching repercussions. Most people likely have little or no knowledge regarding the time of the bookaneers. That said, it’s a fascinating time in literary history and Pearl’s understanding of that fact informs “The Last Bookaneer.” His story is seamlessly integrated into this world; historical and fictional figures are brought together with ease as he brings an overlooked moment in history into the spotlight. It is fast-paced and smart and thoughtful - an altogether outstanding read. In Fergins, Pearl has created a delightfully engaging narrator; his point of view serves to ground us, giving us a first-person look at the world in which these people are living. As he exists mostly on the periphery, his relation of the tale takes on a fly-on-the-wall quality that offers a lovely observational perch from which the reader can survey the proceedings. “The Last Bookaneer” is a remarkable book; 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." -- The Maine Edge

"Required Reading. Writer Pearl imagines an epic crime in the late 19th century world of “bookaneers,” the literary pirates who published books without authors’ permission. As the novel opens, swashbuckling bookaneer Pen Davenport heads to Samoa, where a dying Robert Louis Stevenson labors over his last novel. There, the race is on, not only against rival bookaneers circling the great author but against time: Davenport must publish the book before a international treaty renders the bookaneers obsolete." -- New York Post

"In the days before e-books, self-publishing, and fan fiction, publishing was an even riskier undertaking—or so Pearl (The Dante Club) makes an entertaining case for in his latest, ingenious literary caper. The author imagines the life of 19th-century manuscript thieves called bookaneers, who unscrupulously published others’ novels on their own, thereby depriving authors of their financial due. It is Pearl’s contention that a historical 1890s international copyright agreement would soon put an end to this illegal practice, and he imaginatively conjures up two such bookaneers, Pen Davenport and his assistant, Edgar Fergins, who embark on one last mission, traveling to Samoa to steal a dying Robert Louis Stevenson’s final manuscript, The Shovels of Newton French. Arriving at the author’s mountain compound, Davenport, in the guise of a travel writer, finds competition from a rival bookaneer named Belial, who is passing for a missionary. And so the race is on to take Stevenson’s purloined manuscript and return with it to New York before the new law goes into effect. But standing in the way of literary glory are cannibals, incarceration, German colonials, and a betrayal from beyond the grave. Pearl gives the bookaneers a lively fictitious history, including a flashback to the theft of Shelley’s Frankenstein, and populates it with a colorful cast of roguish characters, including Davenport’s former partner in crime, the lovely and enigmatic Kitten. In the end, this book is a loving testament to the enduring power of paper books." -- Publishers Weekly

"The charm and hook for a reader in Matthew Pearl’s novel The Last Bookaneer is evident from the outset as the characters rarely stray too far from conversations and motives that involve books and literature. The importance of books, as physical objects one can hold and love, has been summarized any number of ways, but let’s allow Pen Davenport, a bookaneer, to attempt it once again. “Books inspire a man to embrace the world or flee it. They start wars and end them. They make the men and women who write and publish them vast fortunes, and nearly as quickly can drive them into madness and despair.” That’s probably not going to happen when reading on a tablet or iPhone. “The Last Bookaneer” is set in the era before copyright laws when a manuscript was the property of the beholder rather than the author. If a famous author’s manuscript could be stolen and whisked away to America before it was published in Europe there was much money to be gained and even some renown for these pilferers of literature—bookaneers. In The Last Bookaneer, the ranks of bookaneers are thinning as the date of international copyright law approaches and the profession will no longer be lucrative. But for two of the world’s last and most notorious bookaneers, there is rumored to be one final holy grail to cap a career. Robert Louis Stevenson is gravely ill and believed to be working feverishly to finish his masterpiece before he dies. If a bookaneer were able to steal that manuscript, well the windfall would allow him or her to retire to their own tropical paradise. The race is on. Stevenson spent his final years on Samoa and any bookaneer attempt was going to require perilous ocean travel and, upon arrival, possible reception by head hunters or cannibals (not certain if they are mutually exclusive). Pearl sets his stage very well (cannibals and Robert Louis Stevenson!) and the ending is sure to please, but perhaps as enjoyable as the tale is the interspersing of literary references to Dickens and Mary Shelley and the fabled quests of bookaneers borne of rumored lost stories penned by literary giants. For anyone who has ever spent time in a used bookstore perusing the shelves and looking for a great “find,” The Last Bookaneer is a pleasure to read. Pearl captures the essence of books and the importance they hold in society and in our lives. That can never be stolen."-- Free-Lance Star (Fredericksburg, VA)

"We readers must keep our eyes open, listen carefully, trust no one amid hurricanes, humid prisons and exciting escapes, trying to figure out who’s conning whom and who’ll succeed in the plan to steal the manuscript. This is a fascinating, extremely well written, compulsively page-turning novel with surprises at every unexpected turn. Pearl’s a master of such tales and keeps us guessing until the final pages." -- Providence Journal

"Writing mischievously clever novels about famous writers is Pearl’s forte. His first “bookaneers” or literary pirates appeared in The Last Dickens (2009), and they now command this entire tale of obsession and nefariousness. This passionately researched and ebulliently imagined yarn is narrated by Fergins, an unassuming English book dealer who ends up in cahoots with the bookaneer Penrose Davenport, culminating in a mad voyage to Samoa, where the ailing Robert Louis Stevenson is reportedly finishing a new novel. Intent on stealing the manuscript, the duo manages to ingratiate themselves with Stevenson and his outspoken wife, Fanny, only to discover that Davenport’s archrival, Belial, is also on the scene. As the bookaneers scheme, tall, gaunt, zealous Stevenson, coughing and smoking, serves as a veritable king to the Samoans in his employ and becomes embroiled in opposition to the German occupation. As the action erupts into the sort of significant cliffhanger exploits Stevenson specialized in, 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." -- Booklist