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Author: Dan Simmons
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
From Wikipedia & Me
The book is a fictionalized account of the last five years of Charles Dickens’ life told from the viewpoint of Dickens’ friend and fellow author, Wilkie Collins. The title comes from Dickens’ unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The novel’s complex plot mixes fiction with biographical facts from the lives of Dickens, Collins, and other literary and historical figures of the Victorian era, complicated even further by the narrator’s constant use of opium and opium derivatives such as laudanum, rendering him an unreliable narrator.
Collins narrates the story of how Dickens met a strange fellow named Drood at a railroad accident. Dickens is convinced that Drood is some sort of evil incarnate while Collins is pretty sure Dickens is just being Dickens.
As time passes however, Collins is no longer so sure that Dickens was wrong. Dragged along by Dickens in his quest to find Drood and uncover the mystery of who he is and what his goals are, Collins becomes a pawn of the mysterious Drood. Drood is King of the Underworld and a practitioner of dark arts lost since the times of the Pharoahs. At the same time Collins is also wooed by one Inspector Fields, a former head of Scotland Yard who is convinced that Drood has killed over 300 people and plans on some sort of supernatural takeover of London.
Caught up in his own literary world, Collins must contend with Drood, Fields, the success of Dickens and his own increasing use of drugs such as laudanum, opium and morphine to combat the pain and hallucinations brought about by syphilis and the scarab beetle put into his brain by Drood to control him. With the death of Dickens, Collins is sure that Drood will leave him alone, even though Dickens revealed to him that everything that had gone on before was a combination of mesmerism, hypnotic suggestion and drugs, all as an experiment on Dickens part and making use of Collins.
Collins knows better though and even though he outlives Dickens by many years, the shade of Drood haunts him to the end.
I went into this completely blind. I was hoping for a completion of Dickens’ unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This was not that book. This was the syphilitic hallucinatory ramblings of an opium and morphine addict.
There were times that the narrator would talk for a whole chapter and then at the beginning of the next chapter you realized that the entire thing had happened in his head, or in his opium dreams or was just a wish fulfillment on his part. It was disturbing to say the least and by the end of the book I was having bad dreams. I didn’t realize it, but this WAS horror and it affected me as such. Not your gruesome 80’s slasher kind of horror, but the invisible dread that hovers over your soul kind of horror. While I’ve read some of Simmons SF, I’d never sampled his horror offerings. After this, I won’t be trying out anything else by him.
With all of that, this was fantastically written, kept me glued to the pages and even though an unreliable narrator tends to send me into the screaming heeby jeeby rants I never once thought of stopping. Simmons kept me reading page after page like he had inserted a magic beetle of his own into MY brain. And that was disturbing to me too.
I think that some familiarity with Wilkie Collins’ works, at least his Moonstone, would help a lot. Since this is a fictionalized account, I’m not sure that too much knowledge would actually help as the confusion between fiction and reality would make this even more of a psychedelic read. Unless you LIKE having your mind messed with, then by all means, dive into this head first and see what happens.
As a completion to The Mystery of Edwin Drood this was a complete failure. As a standalone horror story, it was a complete success. I shall try my hand again at finding another “ending” to the Mystery. I have my eye on one by David Madden but considering it was never released as an ebook, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get a hold of it. If you’ve heard of any other books or authors who tried to complete the Mystery, let me know please.