Review: Matthew Pearl’s “The Dante Chamber”

“In The Dante Chamber, Matthew Pearl’s new thriller — a sequel of sorts to his 2003 bestseller The Dante Club — murder takes a literary turn. Sparked by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, the crimes are solved by a crack team of poets and painters: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his sister Christina Rossetti, Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson and the American doctor-poet-essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes (not to be confused with his son and namesake, the great Supreme Court justice).

“The murders take place in London in 1870. In the first murder, a member of Parliament is killed in a London park; a massive stone has inexplicably been tied around his neck and broken it. Soon thereafter an attractive woman dies on a London street; her eyelids have been sewn shut.

“Gabriel Rossetti, who was in the park during the first murder, disappears. His sister and friends fear for his safety, even as the police suspect he was the killer. Gabriel is fond of opiates and given to erratic behavior. When his wife died he impulsively had all his unpublished poems buried with her. Later, to the horror of many, he had them dug up.” […]    –Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post, June 1, 2018

Francesco Fioretti, La Selva Oscura (2015)

La Selva Oscura is Italian author and Dante scholar Francesco Fioretti‘s latestLa Selva Oscura book, published in January 2015. The thriller is a reinterpretation of the Inferno in modern Italian. Fioretti has already begun a novel based on Purgatorio, and intends to have published novels corresponding to each of the three canticles by 2021, the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death. Fioretti is also the author of Il Libro Segreto di Dante (2011) and La Profezia Perduta di Dante (2013).

“Scopo dichiarato dell’autore è offrire ‘anche al lettore non specialista la preziosa opportunità, (in Italia data di solito solo agli addetti ai lavori), di leggere la prima cantica del poema dantesco dall’inizio alla fine, come un romanzo contemporaneo’, proprio come avviene in altri paesi dove è possibile leggere La Commedia in traduzione , nelle rispettive lingue moderne.”    —Repubblica.it, “Come un thriller l’Inferno di Dante in italiano moderno”

Click here to read an interview with Fioretti about his novel.

Giulio Leoni, Dante Novels

leoni-medusaFirst in a series of historical thrillers featuring Dante Alighieri as investigator of crimes in 14th century Florence, the other novels are I delitti del mosaico; I delitti della luce; and La crociata delle tenebre.

See Internet Bookshop for more information.

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Contributed by Piergiorio Niccolazzini, PNLA Literary Agency

Dan Brown, Inferno (2013)

dan-brown-inferno-2013Inferno, Dan Brown’s new book about Dante, is coming out on May 14, 2013 from Doubleday in the U.S., and Transworld Publishers in the UK (a division of Random House). Brown announced that he was writing something new in May 2012. Though Brown had been cryptic about the topic of the book, he has now revealed more information. The book will again feature The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons and The Lost Symbol‘s lead character Robert Langdon. Brown also noted on The Today Show that it ‘will be set in Europe, in the most fascinating place I’ve ever seen’ (we’re guessing Florence, Italy since that’s where Dante wrote, and Florence’s Duomo church features on the cover of the book). Transworld’s press release for the book relates a bit more: the book will revolve around one of ‘history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces’ (we’re assuming Dante’s Divine Comedy, with a focus on the Inferno portion, due to the title of the book).

“The title was announced this morning on The Today Show. Readers were invited to participate in the unveiling of the title by posting on Facebook or tweeting, using the hashtag #DanBrownToday that they were helping unveil the title of Dan Brown’s newest book. These readers’ profile pictures then claimed a tile in a mosaic. After enough readers contributed their title suggestions, the new title was revealed. Even if you’ve never read a Dan Brown book, you can guess that the man really enjoys his puzzles.”    –Zoe Triska, The Huffington Post, January 15, 2013

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See also: Janet Maslin, “On a Scavenger Hunt to Save Most Humans,” The New York Times, May 12, 2013

Craig Johnson, “Hell is Empty” (2011)

craig-johnson-hell-is-empty-2011“. . . And then there is this: ‘Hell Is Empty’ is a homage to Dante’s Inferno. Johnson has taken images and allusions from that great work about hell, written in the 14th century, and plugged them into his narrative, weaving added meaning into the book and an extra challenge for those readers wishing to search them out.
Early on, readers see that Longmire’s deputy, Santiago ‘Sancho’ Saizarbitoria, is carrying with him a copy of Dante’s Inferno. Johnson mentions it several times – pointing to its hidden role in the book – and Walt later takes a look into Sancho’s copy and stumbles across the opening:
‘At one point midway on our path in life, I found myself searching through a dark wood, the right way blurred and lost.’
Walt’s response? ‘Boy howdy.’
Boy howdy, indeed. And so it begins, Walt’s plunge into his own personal hell – both literally and figuratively – filled with allusions to Inferno. Just a few: Walt travels up a mountain – as did Dante. He walks across a frozen lake – as did Dante. He is greeted by a lion – yes, it’s a mountain lion, but so what? And Walt nearly is consumed in a fire.
There are many others. It will be interesting to see Johnson’s fans put together lists and post them on the Internet.
I can tell you that ‘Hell’ sent me scuttling to my bookshelf for a copy of Inferno to see what I could reference. (I also spent a weekend reviewing a SparksNotes synopsis of the great poem in preparation for this review. Please don’t tell my high school English teacher.)
Perhaps the greatest allusion, and another level of the book, is pointed to by Walt’s guide, a Crow Indian named Virgil who first appeared in Johnson’s fourth novel, ‘Another Man’s Moccasins.’
It is no coincidence that the guide’s name is Virgil – Dante was led through hell by the Roman poet of that name. But what comes in doubt as ‘Hell Is Empty’ proceeds is whether Virgil really exists at all. Is he alive? A dream figure? A hallucination? A ghost? The reader must decide that for him or herself – as does Walt.
But Virgil is not just a mountain guide. He also becomes a spiritual guide for Longmire. This book is about a lot more than just a chase in the mountains. Rather, it digs deep into questions of life and death and afterlife. No small task for a 320-page thriller.” [. . .]    –D. Reed Eckhardt, Wyoming News, 26 June 2011

Taxi Driver

taxi-driver“‘Taxi Driver’ was a groundbreaking hybrid of the grind house (with its urban vigilante plot borrowed from Michael Winner’s 1974 ‘Death Wish’) and the art house (with quotations from Godard, Bresson and perhaps, in some of Travis’s more abstract nocturnal wanderings, the unfocused subjectivity of Stan Brakhage’s avant-garde films). The movie draws on contemporary fears of urban decay and social collapse, but is as timeless as Dante, with its descent into an East Village hell followed, in the extraordinary coda, by a glimpse of a West Village paradise where Travis is miraculously reunited with his corn-fed Beatrice (Cybill Shepherd), a sequence of teasingly ambiguous reality. ” [. . .]    –Dave Kehr, The New York Times, April 8, 2011

David Hewson, “Dante’s Numbers” (2009)

david-hewson-dantes-numbers-2009“In the gorgeous grounds of Rome’s Villa Borghese park the glitterati of the movie world are gathered for a world premiere. A legendary Italian movie director has come out of retirement to create a blockbuster based on Dante’s Inferno. But, as Nic Costa and his colleagues attempt to guard the precious collection of historic artefacts attached to the event, the premiere is disrupted by tragedy and a horrific murder.” [. . .]    —David Hewson

Contributed by Patrick Molloy

Thomas H. Cook, “Master of the Delta” (2008)

thomas-h-cook-master-of-the-delta-2008“Jack Branch, teaching high school in his hometown in the Mississippi Delta in 1954, is justifiably proud of his college-prep ‘specialty’ class on the nature of evil. It’s a guts-and-gore attack on the classics–a potent mix of Dante and Melville and Jack the Ripper, delivered with the relish of Suetonius and the pizzazz of a burlesque stripper, and it prods his restless students to think about issues like hatred and intolerance. But this prideful young man, scion of an old aristocratic family who freely admits his sense of noblesse oblige in educating the poor and underprivileged, hasn’t given a thought to the kind of evil he himself can generate by meddling in other people’s lives.” [. . .]    –Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times, July 13, 2008

Matilde Asensi, “The Last Cato” (2007)

matilde-asensi-the-last-cato-2007Asensi’s first novel to be published in English features a clandestine religious organization, a code contained in the work of a long-dead genius, a plucky heroine, and just the right combination of obscure history and plausible conjecture. Sound familiar? The Last Cato will inevitably draw comparisons to The Da Vinci Code, but this book is in many ways more compelling, if a bit less accessible. After Dr. Ottavia Salina, a nun working as a paleographer at the Vatican, is asked to decipher tattoos on the dead body of an ‘enemy of the Church’ from Ethiopia, she soon discovers the deceased was tied up with the Staurofilakes, an ancient order who have sought to protect the True Cross and now seem to be stealing slivers of it from around the world. The key to tracking them down? Dante’s Divine Comedy. Turns out that Dante was a member of the order himself, and that the notoriously dense Divine Comedy is a kind of coded guidebook to the order’s rituals. Salina and a couple companions set off, with Dante as their guide, on a rollicking, round-the-world adventure. Some of the conjecture seems far-fetched, but the research is impeccable, and the behind-the-scenes Vatican life feels utterly authentic. As engrossing as it is intelligent, this just might be the next big book in the burgeoning religious thriller subgenre.”    –John Green, Booklist, Amazon

Martin Scorsese, “Cape Fear” (1991)

martin-scorsese-cape-fear-1991In the film, Robert De Niro’s character utters the line:
“‘I’m Virgil and I’m guidin’ you through the gates of Hell. We are now in the Ninth Circle, the Circle of Traitors. Traitors to country! Traitors to fellow man! Traitors to GOD! You, sir, are charged with betrayin’ the principles of all three! Quote for me the American Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct, Canon Seven.'”    –IMDb

Contributed by Joe Henderson (Bowdoin, ’10)