Matthew Pearl has made a career out of capitalizing on authors we love. He’s the ultimate success story in fan fiction. In his novels: The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow and The Last Dickens Pearl build on our general knowledge of the lives of Dante, Poe and Dickens to become enjoyable What If mysteries that allow us to visit a favorite writer. However Pearl’s latest novel, The Technologists doesn’t have that classics author hook that has served him so well. I guess in that regard it is his first stand alone.
The Technologists is about Marcus Mansfield. He is a survivor of years in a Confederate prison trying to adjust to civilian life in Boston. Mansfield is a loner with a gift for invention. By night he works on his designs and by day he is a student at the newly founded MIT. Guess what? His inventions are ahead of their time.
When Boston experiences an attack of seemingly otherworldly proportions the local police are baffled. Mansfield and some of his fellow students decide to investigate on their own. These new kids on the block, first generation American geeks are up against a fiendish foe and the respected and well heeled Harvard crew that’s on the same case. That’s gumption at work my friends.
The Technologists has its moments; specifically, Pearl’s use of the science of the times to battle steampunk-esque villainy and his convincing portrait of Boston in 1868. Good thing as these two elements are the heart of this boys own adventure novel. The failure in The Technologists is in the drama. There isn’t any.