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Title: The Last Bookaneer
Author: Matthew Pearl
Genre: Historical Fiction
Thoughts: To be perfectly honest, the only reason I picked up this book in the first place was because I thought it had a dumb title. Bookaneer? I thought. Seriously?
But then I read the cover copy, which goes like this:
book’a-neer’ (bŏŏk’kå-nēr’), n. a literary pirate; an individual capable of doing all that must be done in the universe of books that publishers, authors, and readers must not have a part in
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.
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 accompanied by his assistant Fergins. But Davenport is hardly the only bookaneer with a mind to pirate Stevenson’s last novel. His longtime adversary, the monstrous Belial, appears on the island, and soon Davenport, Fergins, and Belial find themselves embroiled in a conflict larger, perhaps, than literature itself.
Okay, you’ve hooked me. And better yet, the book actually lived up to the high standards set by its blurb. It was fun, suspenseful, and very well written. The characters are wonderfully dynamic, even the supporting cast. I haven’t read any of Pearl’s other work, but it’s definitely on my list now. He has a way of turning small details into magical ones, and the way he writes about books and publishing is enchanting.
Score: (4 / 5)