Italian poet Dante Alighieri — or, as most readers simply know him, Dante — was a pretty wild dude. His poetry reigned during the 11th and 12th Centuries, and his most renowned work, The Divine Comedy, is considered a timeless masterpiece and an Italian staple. He vividly dabbled in the themes of Heaven, Hell, and all worlds in between like no other before.
Among the folks awed by Dante’s work and story is award-winning author Matthew Pearl. In 2003, he penned the best-selling historical fiction The Dante Club, about a group of renowned poets and murder, set during the Civil War.
Now, 15 years after his literary debut, Pearl is back with another historical thriller: The Dante Chamber. He’ll host an intimate chat with readers at Books & Books in Coral Gables at 8 p.m. this Friday, June 15.
“With Dante, he had a lot of the same appeal that a historical fiction itself has,” Pearl says. “He took real people from his own life, history, and mythology and created a new and exciting story around them.”
And that’s what Pearl has done with The Dante Chamber as well. The book is set in 1870 and begins with a mysterious London death. A man is found murdered with a stone around his neck, etched with words from Dante’s The Divine Comedy. From there, more murders happen, all in the style of executions from the poet’s classic Purgatory.
In a race against time, poet Christina Rossetti works with colleagues such as Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, and scholar Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes to decode the clues and try to save a loved one’s life.
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The book is action-packed and adventurous — the perfect tale by a locally bred writer who's adventuresome himself. Pearl grew up near Weston and went to school at what is now Nova Southeastern University. He now resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
As for Pearl’s next adventure, he’s been contemplating a longer-length narrative nonfiction. His work has appeared in the likes of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and, earlier this year, Miami New Times. But amid the big hits, it’s the feedback from fans that keeps him going strong.
“It’s when I hear that a book helped someone get through chemotherapy... or when someone read The Dante Club when they got of prison, helping them get to the next step,” he says. “It’s those smaller moments that I reflect on the most. It’s been nerve-wracking at times but wonderful.”