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The Last Bookaneer
Cover of The Last Bookaneer
The Last Bookaneer
A Novel

"This swashbuckling tale of greed and great literature will remind you why Pearl is the reigning king of popular literary historical thrillers. His latest is guaranteed to delight lovers of history and mystery."—Library Journal (starred review)


book'a-neer' (bŏŏk'kå-nēr'), n. a literary pirate; an individual capable of doing all that must be done in the universe of books that publishers, authors, and readers must not have a part in

London, 1890—Pen Davenport is the most infamous bookaneer in Europe. A master of disguise, he makes his living stalking harbors, coffeehouses, and print shops for the latest manuscript to steal. But this golden age of publishing is on the verge of collapse. For a hundred years, loose copyright laws and a hungry reading public created a unique opportunity: books could easily be published without an author's permission. Authors gained fame but suffered financially—Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few—but publishers reaped enormous profits while readers bought books inexpensively. Yet on the eve of the twentieth century, a new international treaty is signed to grind this literary underground to a sharp halt. The bookaneers are on the verge of extinction.
From the author of The Dante Club, Matthew Pearl, The Last Bookaneer is the astonishing story of these literary thieves' epic final heist. On the island of Samoa, a dying Robert Louis Stevenson labors over a new novel. The thought of one last book from the great author fires the imaginations of the bookaneers, and soon Davenport sets out for the South Pacific island. As always, Davenport is reluctantly accompanied by his assistant Fergins, who is whisked across the world for one final caper. Fergins soon discovers the supreme thrill of aiding Davenport in his quest to steal Stevenson's manuscript and make a fortune before the new treaty ends the bookaneers' trade forever. But Davenport is hardly the only bookaneer with a mind to pirate Stevenson's last novel. His longtime adversary, the monstrous Belial, appears on the island, and soon Davenport, Fergins, and Belial find themselves embroiled in a conflict larger, perhaps, than literature itself.
In The Last Bookaneer, Pearl crafts a finely wrought tale about a showdown between brilliant men in the last great act of their professions. It is nothing short of a page-turning journey to the heart of a lost era.
From the Hardcover edition.

"This swashbuckling tale of greed and great literature will remind you why Pearl is the reigning king of popular literary historical thrillers. His latest is guaranteed to delight lovers of history and mystery."—Library Journal (starred review)


book'a-neer' (bŏŏk'kå-nēr'), n. a literary pirate; an individual capable of doing all that must be done in the universe of books that publishers, authors, and readers must not have a part in

London, 1890—Pen Davenport is the most infamous bookaneer in Europe. A master of disguise, he makes his living stalking harbors, coffeehouses, and print shops for the latest manuscript to steal. But this golden age of publishing is on the verge of collapse. For a hundred years, loose copyright laws and a hungry reading public created a unique opportunity: books could easily be published without an author's permission. Authors gained fame but suffered financially—Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few—but publishers reaped enormous profits while readers bought books inexpensively. Yet on the eve of the twentieth century, a new international treaty is signed to grind this literary underground to a sharp halt. The bookaneers are on the verge of extinction.
From the author of The Dante Club, Matthew Pearl, The Last Bookaneer is the astonishing story of these literary thieves' epic final heist. On the island of Samoa, a dying Robert Louis Stevenson labors over a new novel. The thought of one last book from the great author fires the imaginations of the bookaneers, and soon Davenport sets out for the South Pacific island. As always, Davenport is reluctantly accompanied by his assistant Fergins, who is whisked across the world for one final caper. Fergins soon discovers the supreme thrill of aiding Davenport in his quest to steal Stevenson's manuscript and make a fortune before the new treaty ends the bookaneers' trade forever. But Davenport is hardly the only bookaneer with a mind to pirate Stevenson's last novel. His longtime adversary, the monstrous Belial, appears on the island, and soon Davenport, Fergins, and Belial find themselves embroiled in a conflict larger, perhaps, than literature itself.
In The Last Bookaneer, Pearl crafts a finely wrought tale about a showdown between brilliant men in the last great act of their professions. It is nothing short of a page-turning journey to the heart of a lost era.
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 23, 2015
    In the days before e-books, self-publishing, and fan fiction, publishing was an even riskier undertaking—or so Pearl (The Dante Club) makes an entertaining case for in his latest, ingenious literary caper. The author imagines the life of 19th-century manuscript thieves called bookaneers, who unscrupulously published others’ novels on their own, thereby depriving authors of their financial due. It is Pearl’s contention that a historical 1890s international copyright agreement would soon put an end to this illegal practice, and he imaginatively conjures up two such bookaneers, Pen Davenport and his assistant, Edgar Fergins, who embark on one last mission, traveling to Samoa to steal a dying Robert Louis Stevenson’s final manuscript, The Shovels of Newton French. Arriving at the author’s mountain compound, Davenport, in the guise of a travel writer, finds competition from a rival bookaneer named Belial, who is passing for a missionary. And so the race is on to take Stevenson’s purloined manuscript and return with it to New York before the new law goes into effect. But standing in the way of literary glory are cannibals, incarceration, German colonials, and a betrayal from beyond the grave. Pearl gives the bookaneers a lively fictitious history, including a flashback to the theft of Shelley’s Frankenstein, and populates it with a colorful cast of roguish characters, including Davenport’s former partner in crime, the lovely and enigmatic Kitten. In the end, this book is a loving testament to the enduring power of paper books.

  • AudioFile Magazine Pearl's unusual story, and his invented term "bookaneer" that is part of it, are a wonderful blend of fact and fiction. Simon Vance and JD Jackson narrate the adventures of a dying breed of pirate in the 1800s who took advantage of the lax copyright laws to sell unpublished works of famous authors to publishers. Mr. Fergins recounts the story of "the last bookaneers," which includes a plan to steal Robert Louis Stevenson's final masterpiece. As Vance drives the twists and turns of this tale to Samoa and Stevenson's manor and back, he controls the prose and the well-developed characters with a firm but empathetic hand while Jackson adds drama and emotional flair. Rapt listening, especially for book lovers. S.C.A. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine
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The Last Bookaneer
The Last Bookaneer
A Novel
Matthew Pearl
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