Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Last Bookaneer - Matthew Pearl

My review of Matthew Pearl's The Last Bookaneer first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. This was a fun one, I hope you enjoy the review.

First line: "Back in my salad days laboring for the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company, I would always keep an eye out to see if he would enter our car before the hour of departure."

Matthew Pearl's The Last Bookaneer is a grand adventure befitting Robert Louis Stevenson himself. Populated with pirates, dwarfs, cannibals and even a tribal princess, this intricate story of literary swashbucklers ushers readers through the exotic landscapes of the South Seas on a treasure hunt for the written word.

Loopholes in early copyright laws enabled intellectual property to be stolen and sold in foreign countries to the highest publishing bidders. In that time, such a thief was known as a bookaneer--"a person capable of doing all that must be done in the universe of books that publishers, authors and readers can have no part in." The novel's narrator, Fergins, unwittingly sets sail for Samoa with bookaneer Pen Davenport on his last and greatest mission: to steal an aged and fragile Robert Louis Stevenson's final work for U.S. publication. They're racing the clock to secure the prized text before the international copyright treaty takes affect. But they aren't alone. Davenport's bitter enemy Belial also has his sights on Stevenson's manuscript.

Davenport and Belial battle to be the shrewdest operative, the one who secures the coveted book. Each, waiting on the idiosyncratic novelist to declare his work finished, is unable to reveal the other's intentions without exposing himself. As readers anxiously wait to see who the best man turns out to be, murder, mayhem and mystery ensue.

While Pearl revives some characters from his earlier novel, The Last Dickens, new readers needn't worry; no background is necessary to thoroughly enjoy this magnificently crafted escapade through the dangerous jungles of 19th century publishing. The Last Bookaneer is a clever gem the bookaneers would undoubtedly steal.

The Last Bookaneer is available in hardcover from Penguin Press (9781594204920) and as an unabridged audio (9781481534710), narrated by Simon Vance and J.D. Jackson, from Penguin Audio.

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