This is a story of Charles Dickens' last five years of life, and his descent into madness while working on his last book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Drood is a strangely unique book. It has two main characters. It is narrated from the point of view of the English novelist Wilkie Collins, who was good friends with the other main character, Charles Dickens. Though chronologically, the story follows Dickens last five years, the story is as much, if not more, about Wilkie Collins, and his friendship with Dickens.
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The story opens with Wilkie recounting Dickens Staplehurst train crash. Dickens was aboard a train with his secret mistress heading to London. The train crashes dramatically. Dickens, dazed and confused, escapes and begins rescuing fellow passengers from the wreck. Then he see's and briefly talks with a tall, thin, monstrous man in a black cape, also appearing to help fellow passengers. The man, in a hissing voice, introduces himself as Drood. Dickens also notices that all those the tall man appear to help die soon after. However, he clearly states that at the time, he suspected nothing.
Nonetheless. by the time Dickens makes his way to London, he is obsessed with Drood. As the weeks go bye, the obsession grows, until he goes to his best friends house, (our narrator) Wilkie Collins, and entreats his help, and eventually, enlists him in the search for Drood. From the earlier conversation at the crash site, Dickens knows that Drood will most likely be in the "rookeries" or the poorest, dirtiest, most dangerous slums of London. Around this time two very important things happen. One, Wilkie tells us that he severely suffers from gout, and takes copious amounts of laudanum (opium), for the pain. The second one is that Wilkie begins to openly question Dickens' mental health; his sanity. At first, he makes a token attempt to talk Dickens out of searching for Drood. Dickens insists that he is being hypnotized by Drood, and that he cannot work, and insists on attempting to find him. Wilkie, realizing his mentor will not be dissuaded, insists on coming with him.
Wilkie and Dickens eventually descend into the underbelly of London. They talk to two owners of opium dens, and get some tips and disturbing information. Going off these, Wilkie and Dickens push deeper into the catacombs. As the Journey continues, we realize more and more how much Wilkie depends on his laudanum, and how his mental state changes when he doesn't have it. We begin to realize that Dickens is not the only one in a fragile state. This journey terrifies Wilkie, who undergoes a bizarre Scarab Ritual, and seemingly almost breaks him.
Wilkie and Dickens dig deeper, and find out Drood is the supposed son of an English Peer, and a follower of a secret mystical Egyptian religion, and can even change his shape and appearance. However, in the middle of all this, a wedge is driven between Wilkie and Dickens. Dickens grows increasingly reclusive, refusing to talk about Drood, but making strange, secretive trips into London. When added to Wilkie's feelings of inferiority and his ever-growing opiate addiction, there is room for a retired Police Inspector, obsessed with catching Drood, whom he thinks is a mass-murderer, to blackmail Wilkie into finding more about Dickens' and Drood's relationship.
Dickens and Wilkie fall into a web of lies and mistrust, and both seem, for different reasons, to be losing their minds. In the midst of all this, Dickens and Wilkie keep exploring, trying to find Drood. Dickens sees him several times, and recounts the experiences to Wilkie. The pair even meet him a few times together, though, tellingly, there is never anyone else around.
Wilkie is later kidnapped by Drood. Eventually, he is freed. Though we are uncertain exactly how, or by whom.
Five years later, to the day, Dickens dies in bed, and Wilkie ends the story.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like this story because it was a really unique retelling of a historical mystery. I knew Wilkie and Dickens were friends, and it is more a story of that friendship than any monster named Drood.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene in the book is the first time Wilkie and Dickens descend into the catacombs to search for Drood. Simmons does a masterful job of building the suspense up and up, steadily, with small surprises sprinkled in, and then he blows you away with something you weren't expecting. The feeling of terror emanating from the pages is palpable.
Opinion about the main character:
My greatest like about the main character (Wlkie, in this case) is the way that slowly, through the book, his credibility slowly disapears entirely, until, at the end of the book, you're not sure who the sane one was.