by Dan Simmons
As we saw in the film, "Amadeus," the artistic life can be difficult enough even without having a friendship with one of the most popular creative geniuses in history. In Drood, we meet Wilkie Collins, a successful novelist and friend of Charles Dickens, writing, for us in the 21st century, a chronicle of the bizarre events of the last few years of his and Dickens's lives. Collins is an unreliable narrator if there ever was one; he's addicted to ever-higher doses of laudanum (made by combining opium with ethanol), which he tells himself helps to cure his painful gout. The result is that he's had recurring hallucinations throughout much of his life. These are unpleasant enough when they're clearly only in Collins's head, but we really start to worry when they begin affecting the real world -- does this mean they weren't actually hallucinations to begin with?
The story begins with Dickens relating to Collins a terrible railway accident he's been through: Dickens was sitting with his mistress and her mother when the viaduct the train was going over collapsed, and several rail cars fell to the bottom of the ravine below. Dickens and company were unharmed. Dickens then went to assist any still-living passengers in the wreckage, and on his way down the slope, a very unusual man introduced himself. Drood was his name, he had no nose or eyelids, hissed as he spoke, and his goal among the survivors seemed to be the exact opposite of Dickens's.
All in all, the book felt a little long, and probably could have been edited down a bit. But for those looking for a big, creepy Victorian-era novel, Drood does the trick. Dan Simmons's research is frighteningly thorough, and all the dark details make the book stick in one's mind long after reading.