The Dante Club, a novel written by Matthew Pearl, is a riveting, twisting murder mystery centered around several Boston poets-turned-detectives: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell, and their publisher, J.T. Fields. When a murderer is stalking through the streets of Boston, committing crimes in imitation of the punishments described in Dante's Inferno, the police are more or less helpless and these literary men are the only one who realize what is happening and can work to stop the murderer.
It's set in 1865, and I must say, I enjoyed the historical details immensely. The social attitudes, the city landmarks that are still familiar and recognizable and those that are gone - all of these are brilliant reading for anyone who loves Boston. Likewise, the lives of the poets are excellently rendered, so that they are no longer mere historical figures or Great Literary Men, but mortal men who mourn their wives, argue with their sons, and listen to their daughters' prayers before bedtime. It's richly textured and almost bewitching.
That said, in places the novel is rather too richly textured. This is a murder mystery, after all, not a historical drama, and some of the murders are quite gruesome. The plot is so gripping that it can be quite hard to put the book down, even when the reader is squirming in empathy with the unfortunate victims - in short, this is not recommended reading during mealtime or just before bedtime!
Nonetheless, if read in broad daylight and far away from shadows and suspicious corners, this is definitely a book I'd recommend. The characters were wonderfully drawn, the setting was marvellous, and the plot was ingenious - all in all, quite the enjoyable read!