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"In the ingenious new literary mystery "The Dante Club," someone with intimate knowledge of "The Divine Comedy" appears to be staging murders that mirror the punishments of Dante's "Inferno." Considering that the prodigiously clever first-time author, Matthew Pearl, is a Harvard- and Yale-educated Dante scholar who won a 1998 prize from the Dante Society of America, it is fortunate that he was content with simply writing a book... Working on a vast canvas, Mr. Pearl keeps this mystery sparkling with erudition. Among its many sidelights are the attack by Dr. Louis Agassiz of Harvard upon Darwin's theory of evolution; a discussion of the Fugitive Slave Act and its consequences; the resistance faced by Italian immigrants, who number only about 300 in the Boston area in 1865; and the killing of Dr. George Parkman by John W. Webster, a crime that still haunts Holmes. Most vivid is the battle between the Harvard Corporation and the principals' artistic freedom. "I do not understand how you can put your good name, everything you've worked for your whole life, on the line for something like this,"says Manning, who has threatened to shut down Lowell's Dante class. And Lowell replies: "Don't you wish to heaven you could?" Mr. Pearl, 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. "

Janet Maslin, The New York Times


"Many American devotees may not know that they owe their first translation of "The Divine Comedy" to another great poet: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The bard gave the New World not only its first taste of the Italian poet but, with Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell, its first Dante Society. This is the setting for Matthew Pearl's ambitious novel, "The Dante Club." It is 1865, and Longfellow and his troupe are determined to bring Dante's great work to America, against the wishes of elitist Boston Brahmins, who fear that foreign superstitions will corrupt society. Before long, the Dante Club is confronted with a series of gruesome murders modeled on Dante's punishments in hell. The club turns from scholars to sleuths, trying to ferret out the killer before he strikes again. 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."

Kimberley Strassel, The Wall Street Journal


"PAGE-TURNER OF THE WEEK: A judge eaten alive by maggots. A minister buried upside down, his feet set aflame. Blame not Hannibal Lecter but the imagination of 14th-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri, whose Inferno rests at the center of Pearl's debut novel. In 1865 Massachusetts, the fame Fireside Poets -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow -- gather to translate the Inferno into English when a series of murders inspired by the epic turns them from dilettantes to detectivess. The idea of grizzled poets playing action heroes does stretch the imagination. But the 27-year-old Pearl, a graduate of Harvard and Yale Law School and a Dante scholar, ably meshes the (at times didactic) literary analysis with a suspenseful plot and in the process humanizes the historical figures. 'Writing is not survival of the fittest but survival of survivors,' says Pearl's jovial but insecure Holmes. '[Critics] do their best to cheapen me, to make me of no account -- and if I cannot endure it, I deserve it all.' Pearl, for one, needn't worry about that. BOTTOM LINE: A DIVINE MYSTERY"

Julie K. L. Dam, People Magazine (starred review)


"The scope and ambition of the novel reach beyond literary scholarship and the issues and tensions surrounding the translation of Dante, to reflect on the wider issues of the age, including immigration, the Civil War, racial segregation and religious conservatism... Pearl's scholarly background is evident in the erudite detail he weaves into his fictional narrative, adding texture and complexity to his murder mystery. The ambition and breadth of research are impressive, and it is a testament to the ingenuity of Pearl's plot that he manages to create such a multilayered novel without sacrificing momentum. The story's twists and turns are well handled, but it is the sophistication and insight the author brings to the analysis of The Inferno that are the book's great success. The murder mystery is ingeniously used to illuminate the process of translation and the richness of The Divine Comedy; it focuses our attention firmly on the intricacies of the text without the tone becoming academic."

Tom Roundell, The Times Literary Supplement


"Just about anyone who admires smart historical fiction will get a literary jolt out of Matthew Pearl’s gory first novel... Pearl, a Harvard graduate (with a Yale law degree) now teaching Italian literature at his alma mater, has a knack for describing murderous methods in excruciating (for reader and victim alike) detail. But the larger picture he creates is truly impressive. Underlying Pearl’s historical whodunit is a vision of a country wounded by warfare in ways that won’t heal, of a culture on the brink of nervous breakdowns only psychiatric pioneers like Dr. Holmes were beginning to understand, and of a democracy throwing up barriers to anyone with an ethnic or social background different from the Founding Fathers. His Civil War memory fragments alone add up to one of the most unforgettable accounts of that chapter of American history yet written."

Celia McGee, The New York Daily News


"IN 'THE DANTE CLUB,' MURDER AND TERZA RIMA MINGLE. Matthew Pearl's debut novel, ''The Dante Club,'' is an ingenious thriller that excavates and embellishes an important period in the literary history of Boston to bring Dante Alighieri's 'Inferno' to vivid, even unsettling life... As they unfold, the Dante Club members begin to nail down their connections to scenes from the 'Inferno.' Little does the Dante Club realize that its members will in effect become detectives - and, for some time, suspects. Eventually, the police realize that the members of the Dante Club are the only people in the United States able to appreciate the style and form of the murders. As Rey encounters racism, club members encounter oppression. The parallel is neat and provocative: White cops withhold authority from Rey even as the Harvard Corp. refuses to grant the Dante Club its intellectual place. Ultimately, all leads to Dante - and to the Civil War, a conflict that created circles of hell to rival Dante's. 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."

Carlo Wolff, The Boston Globe


"In the Yale community a few years ago, rumors swirled of a young writer, his large book on Dante and his even larger publisher's advance. The author in question was a Yale law student, Matthew Pearl, whose knowledge of 'The Divine Comedy' reputedly matched that of a tenured scholar's. His book, one heard, situated Dante's poem in a literary murder mystery at rival Harvard, Pearl's undergraduate alma mater. Those of us in the humanities wondered, with some jealousy, if so ambitious a creative and scholarly project would succeed outside of the ivory tower and in the Dantesque 'dark wood' of the literary marketplace. Succeed it would. Pearl, while still in his 20s, has written an erudite and entertaining account of Dante's violent entrance into the American canon. His novel describes how the distinguished founders of a Dante Club at Cambridge in 1865 become embroiled in a gruesome set of murders inspired by the punishments of "The Inferno." Pearl's heroes are charmingly eccentric... As an intellectual thriller, 'The Dante Club' charts the frightening degree to which the literal-minded reader will go when he or she falls under an author's spell. As an incisive commentary on the literary establishment in Reconstruction America, the book demonstrates how Dante's 'living poem' connected the drawing rooms of Harvard to the battlefields of the Civil War, the congressional debates about slavery and the attempt to forge a distinctly American brand of literature. Not bad for a writer, Dante, who Voltaire once insisted was crazy. Not bad for Pearl either."

Joseph Luzzi, The Los Angeles Times


"Once you get past the fact that Matthew Pearl is aggravatingly young (he's 26), that he's a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, that he's an award-winning Dante scholar, that he's editing a new edition of "Inferno" -- once you get past all that, you have to admit he's written a hell of a first novel... "The Dante Club" delivers in spades. The Boston police, of course, have no idea what to make of the macabre killings plaguing their city. Only the Dante Club recognizes them for what they are: re-creations of the punishments found in "Inferno." But who would do such grisly things, and why, remains a mystery... Pearl has crafted a work that maintains interest and drips with 19th century atmospherics. The real test of a book like this is whether, upon reaching the end, readers feel motivated to delve into Dante for some firsthand glimpses of the netherworld. Those who don't weren't paying close enough attention."

David Lazarus, The San Francisco Chronicle


"The Dante Club, the masterful debut novel from recent Harvard graduate Matthew Pearl, who wrote the first draft of the novel while attending Yale Law School. Pearl, who was awarded the Dante Prize by the Dante Society of America for his scholarly work on the Florentine poet, enlarges on the historical record to create a compelling novel of suspense, steeped in literary lore and historical detail... This is a literate, and a literary, thriller, at once nail-biting and thought-provoking. One cannot help but marvel at the sheer breadth of Pearl's knowledge and research. From contemporary fashions to Dante arcana, from Civil War battlefields to society salons, from literary insights to points of medicine and law, The Dante Club is always convincing. This is a multi-levelled work, as strong a social-realist novel as it is a psychological thriller, as compelling a character study as a celebration of one of the great works of literature. Although it lacks the headlong rush of Caleb Carr's The Alienist, probably the closest comparable novel (you must read it, if you haven't already), it is a far stronger work. Pearl has a deft hand with characterization: All of the club members have sharply defined personalities. Dante informs their lives... Pearl's command of the material is so great that it will likely propel readers back to 'The Divine Comedy.' The Dante Club is an impressive debut and reads like the life's work of its young author. I wonder where Matthew Pearl will go from here and what passion will guide his next novel."

Robert J. Wiersema, The Vancouver Sun


"Not since Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose has a literary novel of such scholarly density enjoyed international success on quite such a massive scale, but Matthew Pearl's debut The Dante Club, already a bestseller in the US and due to be published in a further 19 countries, is crammed with research, exegesis and history to a similar degree, and appears to be on the same trajectory... The momentum of his plot is irresistible. Unlike Eco, he doesn't abandon his mystery for pages of historical background, but incorporates Dante's biography and work into the action, as his characters hare around Boston in search of literary clues and horribly maimed corpses. The Dante Club is remarkable for the way in which Pearl has breathed life into these dead poets, for the thriller-writer's skill evident in his pace and plotting and the careful cloaking of the truth until the last moment... a most inventive page-turner."

Stephanie Merritt, The Observer (London)


"Novelists have always liked to use historical truth, in the form of the real world's impressive cast of characters, to add weight or substance to their novels. Sometimes the real people intrude on the story or become merely crude caricatures. Other times, they are used in spectacular supporting roles -- perhaps never better than when E.L. Doctorow pulled off the trick in Ragtime. Author prodigy Matthew Pearl -- 26, right out of Yale Law School, big publishing deal in hand -- mixes real 19th-century literary figures with some cops and criminals of his own creation in The Dante Club... It's academic without being dull, a thriller with resonance. Pearl has achieved that intoxicating blend of reality and imagination that Doctorow gave us 25 years ago with Ragtime. Here's hoping Pearl decides to spend his career writing novels and letting that Yale law degree go to waste. The world has enough lawyers. Great novelists are in short supply."

William Mckeen, The Orlando Sentinel


"Young author finds a 'Pearl' in mystery. Boston winters are cruel, and Matthew Pearl captures every icy finger of wind, every sinister shadow and more than a few human-induced chills in 'The Dante Club.' An original premise is the heart of this debut novel: An assailant who is bent on re-enacting key scenes from Dante's 'The Inferno' is killing Boston Brahmins... The author achieves the right richness of detail, illuminating but never getting in the way of the story. Also, Pearl shifts his scenes with a fine hand, resulting in a narrative that moves about between both major and minor players. He sidesteps the risk of being disjointed, instead carrying a satisfying forward motion on multiple, parallel tracks. In lesser hands, too many clues could telegraph the finale; in this case, just enough information is provided to keep the reader interested and guessing... Pearl is a young author worth following. He's created a work that should appeal to history buffs, literary buffs and crime fiction fans alike."

Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post


"Inventive and captivating... The Dante Club is a clever thriller about a set of "copycat" murders. Pearl's knowledge of Dante, and his understanding of the social and intellectual forces that existed in the 1860s in Boston, are evident throughout his book and enrich the story he tells. A colorful group of minor characters adds depth and complexity to the plot, including a mysterious Pinkerton detective, a disgruntled Italian tutor and former member of the Harvard faculty, a Catholic prelate and a suicidal vagrant. The Dante Club is an ingenious and engaging murder-mystery. Filled with interesting twists and famous faces, it is a quick-paced, enjoyable first novel from a talented new writer."

Bob Van Brocklin, The Oregonian (Portland)


"In his fiction debut, The Dante Club, 27-year-old Matthew Pearl displays a profound understanding of the Inferno, part one of Dante's 14th-century sado-spiritual classic, The Divine Comedy. Like the great Italian poet himself, Pearl also shows a flair for suspenseful plotting and gruesome descriptions, and for constructing a crowded universe where myth and history, the famous and the forgotten, stand together as travelling companions... Pearl masterfully synthesizes countless aspects of mid-19th-century life into a riveting mystery that creeps through all corners of crippled postwar Boston. To steal a revelation from the book: Lucifer did not create hell; it was Dante. In The Dante Club, Pearl adds one more diabolical ring."

Christopher Bollen, Time Out (New York)


"Audacious and captivating... Who can solve these devilish crimes? Why, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, famous writers and Dante obsessives who are called in as CSIs. Pearl's Dante scholarship is truly admirable, and hats off to anyone who's this passionate about the crazy Florentine -- or, indeed, to anyone who's this passionate about anything... As Holmes says to Lowell, 'I fear I will catch your Dante mania.' Don't be surprised if, after having read THE DANTE CLUB, you find yourself revisiting your old tattered college-issued Inferno. How much, it turns out, you've been missing."

Adrienne Miller, Esquire (selected as Esquire's BIG IMPORTANT BOOK OF THE MONTH)


"Pearl, who's something of a phenom, graduated from Harvard in 1997, in 1998 won the Dante Prize from the Dante Society of America, and in 2000 graduated from Yale Law. If the jacket photo makes him look about as old as the paperboy, reading The Dante Club will convince you that Pearl is as accomplished as his resume suggests... [Pearl] knows how to structure a complex novel so that the tension and the reader's interest steadily grow. He also creates a wonderfully textured 19th-century Boston, with a cast of characters that includes Emerson, William James, Louis Agassiz and Robert Todd Lincoln. And then there are 'hominivorax,' the flesh-eating maggots, and a villain dubbed Lucifer. How Pearl manages to relate these to the staid Harvard Corporation and to tension between Calvinists and Unitarians is not the least of the delights of this creepy, curious, engaging novel."

Tony Lewis, Providence Journal


"This book isn't just an historical whodunit: it's a brilliant literary novel which manages to be academic without being dull, combining as it does scholarly density with page-turning suspense. It is also a timely look at America's overall sense of self, focusing as it does on a democracy fearful of anyone or anything 'foreign.'"

Maura O'Kiely, The Sunday Tribune (Dublin)


"The historical novel featuring crime figures dates back at least as far as Victorian masters Dickens and Wilkie Collins. After a period of relative neglect it has re-emerged with a vengeance in recent years. The deserved popularity of Caleb Carr's gaslit thrillers "The Alienist" (1994) and "The Angel of Darkness" (1997) inspired such atmospheric successors as Jody Shields' "The Fig Eater" (2000), Sheri Holman's "The Dress Lodger" (2000) and James Wilson's "The Dark Clue" (2001). And the sinister, throbbing beat goes on. Harvard graduate Matthew Pearl, who holds degrees in literature and law and has been honored for his scholarly work by the Dante Society of America, now weighs in, with a most captivating debut performance, "The Dante Club"... Pearl has a field day evoking Holmes' nervous intellectual energy, Lowell's hearty impetuosity and irascibility, Longfellow's stoical benevolence and serenity. "The Dante Club" is a richly detailed microcosm set generously before us. Within it, wit, erudition and a healthy respect for good old fashioned hugger-mugger conspire to produce one of this year's most agreeable entertainments."

Bruce Allen, Raleigh News and Observer


"Historical drama about Dante devotees pulls off daunting task. Nearly seven centuries ago, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri completed writing "The Divine Comedy," a three-part epic that begins with a tour through hell, where souls pay excruciating wages for their sins. Pope Nicholas III is buried upside down with his feet set ablaze for the crime of selling ecclesiastical favors. Makes an afternoon without tunes sound swell, no? Now Dante and his creative sentencing come to "The Dante Club," a hellacious romp of a novel by a 27-year-old with an English degree from Harvard and a law degree from Yale. Matthew Pearl pulls off a tough mix of history and high-concept fiction in a way that should offend neither amateur Danteans nor those who simply crave a good yarn."

Karen Sandstrom, Cleveland Plain Dealer


"The Dante Club is delightful and suspenseful, an unexpected story about Boston's literary giants tracking a post-Civil-War serial killer. Who would have thought that Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were secretly sleuths? Happily, first-time novelist and Dante scholar Matthew Pearl can imagine them so. He re-creates their friendships, flaws, thrills and sorrows, making them people, not just literary legends. They discover that a series of gruesome deaths are inspired by Dante's "The Divine Comedy," which they are translating into a controversial English edition. Boston is as great a character as the writers, overrun as it is by destitute war veterans, struggling immigrants and religious rivals. Racial tension is evident. The police officer investigating the crimes is a war veteran and the first African-American in the job. The forensic details will make any modern mystery lover blanch, but this novel is as erudite as it is bloody. It swings from an account of exotic maggots eating a man alive to a discussion of the finer points of Dante's artistic and political vision. The Dante Club is a unique, ambitious, entertaining read, a historical thriller with a poetic streak."

Chris Kridler, The Baltimore Sun


"Pearl's is a witty, refreshing novel, erudite and enlightening, as unusual a primer to Dante's classic as it is original in plot. It is beautifully descriptive of place. This Boston is a murky one, split between the mansions of the wealthy and the tenements of the underclass. It is a city in which the animals must be wary of distemper and their masters of a random garrotting. But Pearl also reminds us of the fame these poets once had throughout each strata of society, of their influence and stature among both students and storekeepers. Best of all, though, it is an excellent thriller; a cracking tale of foul deeds and four men of letters turning into unlikely detectives. Yet Pearl holds a tight control over this world of fiction and fact, sending us and his characters down dead-ends, constantly pushing along the plot, but never letting it careen away. It makes for a most unexpected delight. Intellectual, yet accessible. A scholarly read to bring to the beach."

Shane Hegarty, The Irish Times


"There is a first novel from a man who apparently never sleeps. How else could Matthew Pearl, who graduated from Harvard University in 1997 and from Yale Law School in 2000, find time to research and write the literate, accomplished mystery 'The Dante Club'? To see his ingenious plot through, Pearl revives mid-19th-century Boston and Cambridge and appropriates the members of the original real-life Dante Club: Henry Wads-worth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, George Washington Greene and the publisher James T. Fields. This august group, under Longfellow's direction, produced the first American translation of 'The Divine Comedy.' 'The Dante Club' comes happily to life here... As deftly as Pearl works out the solution to the murders, the novel's main appeal lies in the depiction of the times. The book vividly re-creates the academic life of Cambridge and the social unrest that menaced post-Civil War Boston in the frigid winter of 1865."

Barbara Liss, The Houston Chronicle


"You don't have to be a Dantean to join 'The Dante Club.' Matthew Pearl's debut novel describes a series of murders in Boston in 1865. The killer mimics torments from Dante's 'Inferno,' a pattern recognized by translators of the 'Commedia' - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, J. T. Fields, and James Lowell. The scholars race to find the murderer before suspicion falls on them. The crime scenes are grisly and not for the faint of stomach, but the hunt for the murderer is thrilling."

J. Johnson, Christian Science Monitor


"Pearl does what a good historical novelist has to do: Look at the past by the light of the imagination, creating a fictional situation -- there was of course no actual Dante killer in 1865 Boston -- to animate the ideas, issues and personalities of the time. He makes entertaining fiction out of the conflict between conservatives and modernists, the plight of Civil War veterans, the tensions within the mid-19th century Boston police force and even the lives of those cozy old Fireside Poets we had to study in American lit courses... From the way he plants clues and red herrings, he seems to have studied thriller novels as fruitfully as he has studied history. There aren't many writers around who can remind you of both James Patterson and Umberto Eco."

Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News


"Boston, 1865: Literary gentlemen of the Brahmin set have three names. And what resounding names they are: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes... The poets are good company, Nicholas Rey an attractive, necessarily cautious young fellow (perhaps we'll meet him again), and it's fun to visit Boston and Cambridge in 1865. The Dante Club was real, with just these members, and this is a very clever fictional use of it. I'd like to have seen even more Infernal punishment than Pearl serves up, just to see how he would manage it, since he's been startlingly inventive so far."

Alice K. Turner, The Washington Post


"Infernally good... "The Dante Club" is a novel to be consumed in great gulps. Reading a few pages before dozing off to sleep at night does both the book and the reader a disservice. First, there is the matter of Pearl's intricate story line. New characters come and go at a mind-boggling rate, sometimes forcing the reader to thumb backwards just to keep pace with the momentum of the plot. Even with this wealth of characters, Pearl deftly escorts the reader through the details of the mystery and the writings of Dante. I can't help but liken his style of writing to the motion of lacing an old high-top boot. With each eyelet, the boot gets tighter until the entire shoe and its loose strings are wrapped up nice and neat. Next, there is the history. While the events are fictional, it is clear that Pearl researched the men, their era and their passions. Combining the history and literature of the Dante scholars with a thrilling tale creates a rhythm in the novel best not broken by short nips... the originality and intellectual heft exhibited in this spine-chilling novel are to be applauded. If this is the work that Pearl can produce at 26, literary critics should anxiously await his next endeavor."

Cori Yonge, Mobile Register


"A jaw-dropping story and a bevy of intriguingly reimagined historical personages are the singular (and multiple) attractions of "The Dante Club," a debut historical novel penned by Yale Law School graduate and Dante scholar Matthew Pearl. Its setting is 1865 Boston, and its plot is an intricate murder mystery in which prominent citizens turn up slaughtered and mutilated by means gradually deduced to have been inspired by the punishments inflicted on sinners described in Dante's "Divine Comedy"... Atmospheric sequences aplenty and a cunning pattern of linkages to the recent Civil War deepen the interest created by Pearl's detailed portrayals of dapper, mercurial poet-doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes, prickly literary eminence James Russell Lowell and the courtly, sweet-tempered Longfellow."

Bruce Allen, The Hollywood Reporter

"Matthew Pearl's debut novel, The Dante Club, is set in Boston during Longfellow's heroic efforts to translate the first part of Dante's brimstone trilogy, The Inferno. It's a bibliographic thriller in the Umberto Eco mould, jammed with arcane erudition and diverse literary influences, including Donna Tartt… Already a best-seller in his native America, The Dante Club is due to be published in a further 19 countries and may yet rival Eco's The Name of the Rose in sales. The novel raises solemn issues of slavery, religion and justice, and convincingly recreates the climate of fear and moral uncertainty in post-Civil War America."

Ian Thomson, The Sunday Telegraph (London)


"If you liked The Name of the Rose, The Dante Club is your book. Year 1865: a group of American literary brahmins decide in the teeth of opposition on a new translation of Dante's Inferno. Murder is afoot and, also in the teeth of (racist) opposition, a black policeman is on the case. As with Umberto Eco, Matthew Pearl's entertainment is an erudite, dense and intricate page turner. In a word: unputdownable."

Tony Baker, The Advertiser (Australia)


"Rarely are detective fiction and literary history so engagingly combined as in The Dante Club. In the 1860s, a group of poets, Longfellow and Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes, have formed a club dedicated to producing the first American translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. They face stiff opposition from the establishment at Harvard, but more alarmingly, someone entirely unhinged begins to murder his victims, emulating the grisly torments Dante envisioned in his Inferno. The poets must team up with Boston's first Negro policeman to find the killer. Matthew Pearl's book is enlivened by the fruits of his research in 19th-century American literature. The poets and their opinions are compellingly portrayed and the novel manages to incorporate vast erudition about its subject without compromising on entertainment value. "

Cameron Woodhead (The Age)


"Dante and Death: Sometimes themes work. THE DANTE CLUB by Matthew Pearl is one of those times. Set in Boston in 1865, the novel brings together a group of historical luminaries -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell, among others -- who are intent on producing the first American translation of Dante's THE DIVINE COMEDY. A series of murders in Boston and Cambridge -- taking cues from Dante's masterpiece, The Inferno -- baffle police and the Harvard intellectuals. THE DANTE CLUB is Pearl's first novel, drafted while he was a student at the Yale Law School. It's tapestry of mystery, history and murder make it worth joining the club."

Alan Johnson, The Columbus Dispatch


"There's no denying that Dante's Inferno, where he takes readers on a tour of hell, is a very creepy book. It's a tough read to be sure, but there are hellish insights in every verse. If you can't bring yourself to read a translation of the original, then Pearl's carefully constructed mystery just might be the next best thing... It's a taut, tight yarn, well told and brilliantly written. It's also the next best thing to actually sitting down with Dante himself."

Marc Horton, The Edmonton Journal


"Pearl serves up a brilliantly written, intricate tale that weaves real-life figures into an intriguing mystery. In Boston in 1865, a group of Harvard poets toiling on America's first translation of Dante's The Divine Comedy find themselves working with America's first black policeman to solve a series of shocking murders for which Dante's vision of hell seems to have been used as a template."

Claire Sutherland, The Cairns Post (Australia)


"Pearl weaves his literary thriller in and out of the real lives of his famous characters (these were men who couldn't leave their door without being asked for autographs) and stands them up against a historical background more convincing than the one Martin Scorcese managed to depict in his contemporaneous Gangs of New York. I read it twice."

David Hepworth, The Word (UK)


"Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Lowell are such a part of our American cultural history that it's easy to see them only as textbook lessons, forgetting they really existed. In his debut novel, The Dante Club, author Matthew Pearl never forgets to let the humanity shine through these historical figures. The lives of the 19th century poets/Harvard professors Longfellow, Holmes and Lowell plus publisher J.T. Fields are not only authentically depicted, Pearl makes them out to be pretty good sleuths. The Dante Club also does the near impossible -- making us view Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy as an exciting and controversial work of art... Pearl convincingly re-creates Boston in the wake of the Civil War. Pearl, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, thrives on the details of the era to make the time and the characters relevant."

Oline H. Cogdill, The Sun-Sentinel


"Possessed with a rare authenticity frequently lacking in historical novels. Given the source material and the inaccessibility of Dante to modern readers, it is a considerable achievement that Pearl has managed to craft an intelligent literate story, which is never stuffy despite its lofty themes. As a detective story, it is highly original with an unusual band of protagonists united by a common cause who are schooled in the way of academic thought rather than conventional investigative thinking. It is a ploy that succeeds however and allows the narrative to take several diversions into the work of Dante... you will not be able to put the book down."

Staurt Johnstone, Dundee Evening Telegraph (UK)


"Pearl has watchfully walked the streets of Boston and of the Cambridge precinct that houses the university. Confidently he takes us into drawing rooms and lecture theatres, along snow-covered streets coursed by horse-cars and into the underground passages beneath Unitarian churches where fugitive slaves were sheltered… The Dante Club is about an unreasoning fear of books on the one hand (Manning's) and an unswerving belief in their power to instruct on the other (the murderer's). Most of the main characters are bookmen (if they are not police or their safe-cracking partners in greed), who are imbued with a humanistic faith in enlightenment. That such paths might lead to retributive murder as well as to intellectual uplift is part of the burden of Pearl's spirited, clever, and occasionally arch entertainment."

Peter Pierce, Courier Mail (Queensland, Australia)


"This ingenious debut novel from Matthew Pearl blends historical fact and murder-mystery fiction, and not only manages to effectively evoke a time and place but turns it all into an erudite, literary thriller… Pearl is a Harvard University graduate himself and a Dante scholar. His novel is rich in period detail, reflecting his own scholarship and research (including a particularly horrific synopsis of Civil War suffering), skillfully letting background description enrich his clever tale and also writing in a style reminiscent of late 19th-century literature."

David Manning, The Nelson Mail (New Zealand)


"What an amazing first novel, especially when the author is 26 years old!... Matthew Pearl did not achieve such a tour de force without a strong background in Dante. He took every such undergraduate course offered at Harvard and continued his study and even lectured on Dante while at Yale Law School. He took Italian along the way and researched the members of the Dante Club, read widely in their works and learned about the faces of Cambridge and Boston immediately following the Civil War. Pearl has done his homework and is passionate about Dante. It comes through loud and clear in his first novel."

Margaret Grayson, The Roanoke Times


"Pearl delivers an amazing tale about the real life Dante Club, whose respected members were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poets Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes (father of the great jurist) and James Russell Lowell, historian George W. Greene and their publisher, J. T. Fields... Mr. Pearl is an award winning Dante scholar who, at the age of twenty-six, has delivered a witty, ironic, sardonic, interesting, entertaining, gruesome, ingenious, well plotted and unconventional novel in the spirit of E. L. Doctorow's best "fiction." His characters, both real and fictional, make for a community of folks who are unforgettable in their respective roles. Now and then, a new writer appears on the horizon with a smash hit, only to disappear when the sun goes down. Matthew Pearl is not a "one novel wonder." He has the ability and intellectual dexterity to bring forth the kinds of large fictions nineteenth century readers were accustomed to --- books in which an individual could immerse her/himself and come away stimulated with new ideas. And so it is with THE DANTE CLUB, a very important book. It works on many levels and has the sparkle needed to inspire readers to recommend it to their friends. Maybe it will even prompt you to explore INFERNO. And, if not, that's okay too. Fortunately, you don't have to be a Dante scholar to realize that this work will be discussed and analyzed and read with relish. Enjoy THE DANTE CLUB!"

Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum, Bookreporter


"A satisfying amount of ingenuity and Dantescan detail goes into the construction of Pearl's puzzle... Genteel Boston is shaken by a series of grotesque and very graphically described murders. A judge is found eaten alive by insects, his body stuffed with maggots; a minister is buried head-first in a pit and his feet set on fire. Only the literary members of the Dante Club know that these are re-enactments of the punishments devised for sinners in the Inferno... A quirkily highbrow mystery."

Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun


"Matthew Pearl's first novel, 'The Dante Club,' is an exquisite study of the criminal mind. Concomitantly, we have a well-narrated whodunit entailing commentaries on human justice worthy of further meditation... A delightful odyssey into the world of Dante's 'Inferno' superimposed on nineteenth-century Cambridge politics. The resulting interaction of American, Renaissance, and classical literary heritage makes this a richly rewarding reading experience."

Roland A. Champagne, World Literature Today


"Based in 1860s Boston (historical) and starring some heavyweight literary names, including poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes - Dante Club members hammering out the first English translation of The Divine Comedy (ambitious) - it's a roaringly engaging tale of mystery, intrigue and people dying with bugs in them… The Dante Club is a compulsive, embroiling read."

Alan Heal, Ink Magazine


"Pearl has conjured a 19th-century serial killer who slays his victims in a graphic manner consistent with various punishments in Dante's "Inferno." That idea alone is graphically compelling, but Pearl, who graduated from Harvard and has a law degree from Yale, throws into the mix a coterie of Bostonian intellectuals - Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the latter of whom has just translated "Inferno" - as the sleuths tracking down the murderer. Brainy, atmospheric, laced with wit and tension, "The Dante Club" has across-the-board appeal."

Rick Koster, The Day (Connecticut)


"Unusual and even unforgettable... Pearl is a Harvard man himself, class of 1997, making him young enough to remain a revolutionary, which in some senses this book truly is. He visited the estates of the Danteans, and he explored the Cambridge and Boston of their world, a place where, over gin toddies and cigars, great men with great minds debated great metaphysical questions. He pored over city histories, examined maps and dipped into memoirs. As a result, he is both insightful and inventive, and his explorations into the thought processes of historical figures have unusual power... Throughout the volume, Pearl weaves an alluring tapestry of the period, capturing not only the principals but conveying, beautifully and hauntingly, the lure of Dante himself -- especially the lure that Longfellow felt."

David M. Shribman, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)


"There are overachievers—and then there’s Matthew Pearl. At twenty-six, the man is already a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, an award-winning Dante scholar and translator, and now, just for good measure, he’s adding fiction writer to the list. His debut, The Dante Club, is an erudite mystery that fuses fact with fiction, taking up where Pearl’s own scholarship leaves off. The novel imagines what might have happened if the fabled Dante Club—an alliance of post-Civil War scholars committed to introducing Dante to an American audience—was faced with solving a series of brutal crimes inspired by scenes from The Inferno. Equal parts richly detailed history lesson (our “hero” is Oliver Wendell Holmes) and riveting page-turner, The Dante Club promises to be a mere pit stop on Matthew Pearl’s journey to total world domination, so you may as well get on board."

Elle (Daily Essential)


"A suspenseful and satisfying novel. 'The Dante Club' is an historical thriller by Matthew Pearl. In Boston, midway through the 19th century, a great publishing event is nearing completion: the first American translation of Dante's Inferno. When someone begins committing murders, only the people working on the translation realize the truth: the killer's basing his crimes on Dante's epic poem. Using real people as his heroes - Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow are two of the central characters - Pearl has crafted an historical novel so vivid that we feel like we've been transported back in time nearly a century and a half."

David Pitt, The Halifax Herald


"Luck is with this reader... If you love good historical fiction you'll snap up a copy of Matthew Pearl's first novel, 'The Dante Club.' The novel takes place in 1865, in Boston and Cambridge... Visit Louis Agassiz's lab; say evening prayers with 'grave Alice and laughting Allegra and Edith with golden hair'; walk the streets of Cambridge and listen to the great ones talk of politics, of literature, of daily life; and follow the detection of a serial killer. Along the way, read portions of the poems, essays, novel and journals of the Dante Club members and those of their circle. This is the perfect book club novel. Read it, and you'll want to go back and read 'Inferno' all over again."

Ann LaFarge "Constant Reader", Voice Ledger (NY & syndicated)


"The Dante Club is full of mysteries: Who is the serial killer that re-creates grisly scenes from Dante's "Divine Comedy"?; Are the poets Longfellow, Holmes and Lowell next?; What is fact and what is fiction in this seamless period mystery produced by the young and brilliant first-time novelist Matthew Pearl of Cambridge?... Pearl's book is a sumptuous feast of wonderful writing and delicious detail, and there are hilarious moments between the cast of lively characters. Longfellow, portrayed after his wife was burned to death in a house fire, is sage and sensitive. Oliver Wendell Holmes is routinely self-absorbed though fervently committed to the literary arts. James Russell Lowell, seen by some as a blowhard, works constantly to control his passionate emotions. We meet the publisher J.T. Fields, Emerson, Harvard's president, Lincoln's son, and the quirky scientist Louis Agassiz, who fishes a wriggling maggot from Lowell's swollen ankle. Together this crew of mature poets solve the mystery of the Dante killings, often at their own peril. The dialogue is practically transcendent. Harvard president Dr. Augustus Manning is adamant about keeping Dante out of Harvard. He confronts Lowell, "I do not understand how you can put your good name, everything you've worked for your whole life, on the line for something like this, Professor." And Lowell responds, "But don't you wish to heave you could, Manning?" The discussions of Dante's work are also captivating."

Rae Francoeur, The Salem News


"Pearl has crafted a most ingenious and beautifully written mystery-one that reminds us that siphoning meaning from chaos is also the metier of the detective... the scenario furnishes Pearl with a serpentine whodunit plot, while allowing him to evoke the intellectual atmosphere of nineteenth-century America... Pearl reminds us that in choosing our reading, we are selecting our civilization's common denominators. New books salvage a little order from the universe's pandemonium."



"Novelist Matthew Pearl richly portrays these characters in their day-to-day lives and in their work translating the first section of Dante's poem, Inferno. Around them, he crafts a tale of corruption -- including murder -- at every socioeconomic level in Civil War-era Boston... Pearl has written a murder mystery of literary merit that simultaneously demystifies the concepts of Dante's hell... Even Dante scholars won't be prepared for this ending."

Katrina A. Yeager, Yankee Magazine


"In his debut novel, The Dante Club, Pearl shows his affinity for the subtle elements of writing and crafts a work that readers of all levels can appreciate. The story, set in Boston in the 1860s, is centered on a group of Harvard poets who are trying to complete the first American translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The powers at Harvard are opposed to the project, as they fear it will undermine their age-old teaching strategy and introduce anti-protestant, pro-Catholic elements into the American psyche. A series of murders unravels, creating an excellent mystery that keeps the reader guessing — unsuccessfully — throughout the book. Readers familiar with The Divine Comedy will find the imagery in Pearl’s novel even richer than a Dante virgin. Pearl seamlessly blends aspects of Dante’s writing into his own, but that shouldn’t bother those who are unfamiliar with the Comedy. The parts of Dante’s masterpiece essential to the story are explained to the reader, so no previous Dante experience is required. The book weaves together historical fact and literary fiction to bring many elements into one coherent story. It is part mystery, part historical criticism and part political commentary, all at the same time."

Troy Sexton, The Daily Free Press (Boston University)


"'The Dante Club' is a book that is exciting, learned, and timely... A brilliant first novel. That it also has something important to say about America's most recent adolescent, impudent rebellion against Europe should enable it to command the attention it so well deserves. Any more said about the unfolding of the plot would take away from the pleasure of reading it."

Michael Payne, The Daily Item (Sunbury, PA)


"Pearl's gripping debut novel, set in Boston in 1865, begins with the discovery of the maggot-ridden, dead body of Judge Artemus Healey... The members of the Dante Club—publisher J. T. Fields, essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes, and poets James Russell Lowell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—have been laboring on translating and discussing Dante's Divine Comedy and quickly recognize the gruesome murders from the pages of Dante's Inferno... Expertly weaving period detail, historical fact (the Dante Club did indeed exist), complex character studies, and nail-biting suspense, Pearl has written a unique and utterly absorbing tale."

Kristine Huntley, Booklist Magazine (starred review)


"Matthew Pearl's dazzler of a debut novel, The Dante Club, is just what an historical thriller should be--a creative combo of edge-of-your-seat suspense, fully imagined characters, fictional and real, and an evocative, well-researched, well-realized setting... The characters include some of the great literary Brahmins of the time, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell among them, who are hard at work on the first American translation of Dante. The suspense comes quickly when their scholarly efforts are interrupted by string of grizzly murders that exactly duplicate the dire torments described in Dante's 'Inferno.' Intrigued and horrified, these elite intellectuals put their pens aside to go after the killer themselves... Smart, exciting entertainment."

Sukey Howard, Bookpage Magazine


"A devil of a time... Ingenious use of details and motifs from the Divine Comedy, and a lively picture of the literary culture of post-bellum New England, distinguish this juicy debut historical mystery. The year is 1865. The eponymous Club, whose members include Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, meet regularly to plan promoting American interest in Dante's masterpiece (by now Longfellow's translation is well underway). But Harvard's tenacious devotion to its classical curriculum discourages such eclecticism ("Italy is a world of the worst passions and loosest morals"). Moreover, several violent murders clearly inspired by punishments meted out to sinners in Dante's Inferno claim highly visible victims (a Massachusetts Chief Justice, a prominent clergyman, a wealthy art patron)... Author Pearl, a 26-year-old Yale Law School graduate and Dante scholar, offers a wealth of entertaining detail.... an intricate and clever plot, and the author's distinctive characterizations of the gentle, courtly Longfellow, quick-tempered Lowell, and mercurial, ironical Holmes. Great fun figuring out whodunit and why."

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


"The title refers to an actual group of 19th-century Bostonians who gathered to translate Dante's Inferno for an American audience. Among the members of this exclusive "club" were poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, physician Oliver Wendell Holmes, and poet James Russell Lowell... Pearl, a recognized Dante scholar, uses his expertise to create an absorbing and dramatic period piece... Pearl has proven himself a master."

Laurel Bliss, Library Journal

And Reader Comments

...Jump back up to reviews

We appreciate the many supportive comments by readers on personal web journals or blogs, including at "Displaced American", "Booklinker", "The Neo-Traditional Librarian", "The Angus Index", "Richard Seltzer", "Non Ho Nulla Da Dire", and "Tvertimot!".

"If 'The Dante Club' is an indication of what readers may expect from future works by Mr. Matthew Pearl, a great new novelist has arrived. Mr. Pearl has not just taken a great setting and a great tale, but he has added notable historical figures as well as one of the most noted pieces of literature ever written, and molded them into a wonderful mystery on the streets of Boston in 1865... There are many new authors that debut every year. There are far fewer who will return a second time, or even if they do will have their subsequent work noticed. I believe Matthew Pearl will be the exception."

Francis J. McInerney, Rhode Island ( post)

"Absolutely first rate. I stayed up until 3:00am finishing it. How could you possibly top this?"

William T. Ford, Alaska

"I had the distinct pleasure of listening to the wonderful Boyd Gaines read your novel via Audio CD. Bravo, Mr. Pearl!! I listen to audio books in the car during my commute to work each day, and I could not WAIT to return to my car each evening to finish the novel. You have done a great service to the literary lovers here. I shall anxiously await your next venture."

Brooke Cale, Colorado

"The Dante Club is so good, so beautifully worked out and so persuasive, I can't quite believe it didn't happen!... I can't remember the last time I was this excited about a book."

Rhonda Rockwell, California

"After an appropriately sedate beginning, The Dante Club gathers momentum and blows you away with a mass of perfect characterizations and plot twists. Mr. Pearl is not afraid of old-fashioned storytelling. He does not hesitate to switch in his 3rd-person tale from one point-of-view to another. It works. Rather like Dante, he looks at his created world from a distant, God-like perspective, yet manages to get the details exactly right. A gripping read that won't leave you feeling empty."

B. Adams ( post)

"I recommend this novel, THE DANTE CLUB, to everyone who likes surprises!"

Nina Lockwood, New York ( post)

"I loved the book. What I especially like about the book is that it works on several levels: as a potboiler of a mystery (I couldn't put the book down and was stunned that ... turned out to be the murderer); as a great historical novel; and also, on a higher level as a piece of solid literary fiction with strong philosophical overtones."

Susan Aylward, Rhode Island

"I finished The Dante Club yesterday, it was outstanding. A perfect blend of fact, fiction, and poetry."

Gary T. Rzepka, Hawaii

"I reveled in watching the staid members of the club -- publisher J.T. Fields, essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes, and poets James Russell Lowell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow -- as they morphed into Sherlock Holmes-like private detectives in order to solve some gruesome murders patterned after those detailed in Dante’s Inferno. This is a deliciously divine literary thriller."

Jeanne Morris, Delaware (for


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