Read by Simon Prebble
Dan Simmons has penned an intricate Victorianesk work of historical fiction that is filled with all manner of characters – from well-to-do Londoner’s to those from the darker side of town, called Undertown. A dangerous area where the affluent and well respected sneak off to enjoy a whisp of opium from time to time…(for the pain of course!) Woven within the pages of this chilling tale are factual details from Dickens’ life. It is important to note that Dickens’ was notorious for exaggerating and telling over dramatized versions of his past experiences. Combine this with narrator Wilkie Collins’ drug use and it quickly becomes clear there’s no way to be certain of much of anything. And yet the tale of these two men and their unusual interests and escapades makes for an entertaining read.
Friends, occasional collaborators and bound by extended family ties (Dickens’ daughter married Collins’ brother) both men enjoyed success, however despite his abilities Collins never attained the status or recognition of “the Inimitable” Charles Dickens. This became a source of intense jealousy and as the story progresses Wilkie develops a nearly murderous obsession, as well as, what can best be described as a hallucinagenic manifestation he calls the “second or other Wilkie”, no doubt both fueled by his laudanum addiction and Inspector Field.
The catalyst that would be the beginning of the end for these long time friends, their sanity, careers and ultimately Dickens’ very life, occurred in June 1865 -Charles Dickens, (age 53) traveling with his female companion Ellen Ternan and her Mother were involved in a horrific train crash. Ten were killed, many more were injured, and Dickens suffered physical and psychological injuries from which he would never recover. It was here, at the site of the Staplehurst derailment that Dickens is introduced to the thin, deformed, Egyptian known as “Drood.”
This chance encounter between Dickens’ and “Drood” had a profound, disturbing and ghoulish effect on the writer. Convinced he could create a new genre with his powers of mesmerism, utilizing special lighting and dramatic, theatrical story tellings, Dickens shocked audiences, who night after night would sit in stunned silence until the climatic conclusion brought them to their feet with frenzied applause. Dickens’ spends much of his time searching for and obsessing about “Drood,” and he wasn’t alone…
Retired Inspector Field uses his own powers of persuasion to get a reluctant Wilkie to spy on Dickens. Field believes the “fiend” a.k.a. “Drood” is responsible for nearly 300 murders – making him the single most prolific serial killer of all time and yet only a select few have ever heard of him? According to the Inspector not all the killings were by Drood’s own hand, no – it is his powers of mesmerism that makes him so very dangerous and deadly. His ability to call upon his minion of followers, those from the darkened crypts and waterways that snake beneath the streets of London. Whether a psychological manifestation, drug induced hallucination or a true evil being, three otherwise intelligent, well respected men have fallen under the spell of this elusive being.
Mesmerism, magnetism, opium dens, dissolving corpses in lime, feral children and distinctly 19th century language swirl together like the smoke of a fine cigar…intoxicating the reader, making the unbelievable absolutely real, if only in the mind of the character and if only for a moment or two. Simmons teases the reader throughout the story – with each successive event you are at first convinced it is Collins that’s delusional and in the very next breathe sure it is Dickens’. All of which works well together, making the lengthy text hurl as quickly towards the conclusion as the train cars did off the edge at Staplehurst. Simmons delivers this fictionalized version of Dickens’ incomplete novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” smoking hot and on a classic silver platter.
Many may find the archaic language difficult, but give it a few chapters and you are likely to discover that it adds an air of authenticity to the story that just simply could not be achieved any other way. If you enjoy an original work, that ventures into the dark side more than a few times and one that leaves the reader to make the final judgment you will love Drood.” A thriller, chilling, interesting and unlike anything on the adjoining shelves!
A novel by the bestselling author of “The Terror”
includes bonus short story “The Signal-Man” by