Book Review: The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

UK edition

The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl (Harvill Secker) £17.99

During the nineteenth century many publishers operated under gentlemen’s trade agreements and managed to synchronize publication in both countries, offering authors reasonable terms. From Samoa, Stevenson communicated publishing schedules and terms with Cassell in London and Scribner’s in New York. Nevertheless, some unscrupulous publishers cut authors out of the process entirely.

Pearl’s bookaneers are romantic spies; self-educated, they “helped control the chaos caused by the broken copyright laws and the maelstrom of greed that rumbles just beneath the surface world of books”. They democratize the publishing industry, holding “as much sway as rich publishers and esteemed authors, more so in some cases, in determining the public’s access to books”. Whiskey Bill and Kitten from The Last Dickens (2010), a search for Dickens’s unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, reappear in The Last Bookaneer. However, it is the enigmatic American, Pen Davenport, together with his sidekick, Edgar Fergins, an English bookseller he meets in London, who race against time and Belial, Pen’s shadowy nemesis, to infiltrate the Stevenson household and steal his final manuscript before the law of copyright overtakes them.

You can read my review in full in the Independent on Sunday