My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was really liking this book until I got to the ending which I thought fell flat. The novel is narrated by Wilkie Collins (the author) who is the epitome of the unreliable narrator: he takes a ton of drugs, drinks a good deal, and is completely self-absorbed and quite cruel. The story spans several decades and not a lot actually happens beyond basic life stuff (work, moving households, babies), unless we believe Collins in which case a battle to the death between Charles Dickens (the inimitable author) and a mysterious Egyptian monster named Drood is taking place over these years. There is a lot of detail about the work of both writers and various aspects of London that I found interesting. I especially liked the parts where Collins condemns Dickens' work as being sub-standard to his own. The Bleak House critique is excellent, for example. What I didn't like about the ending was that the whole novel (700+ pages) was heading for a grand battle between various players and then the battle scene isn't there. There are several smaller incidents that seem to foreshadow the showdown, but ultimately we never get to see it. I felt cheated.
There is a review of this book by Louis Bayard in the Washington Post. I mostly agree with the reviewer, though the "padding and sock-puppetry" didn't bother me that much. I love his conclusion:
"A more apropos title, then, might have been "A Tale of Two Egos," which, all in all, is a worthy subject, but not worth the epic length afforded to it. Inside this artery-clogging almost-800-page book is a sleek and sinewy 300-page thriller waiting to be teased out. If only Simmons hadn't left the job to us"
I read this book for the Tea & Books Challenge (#5 of 6).