I don't read a ton of mysteries, but the literary snob in me was attracted to The Dante Club. It's not because I'm a huge Dante fan -- read Blake in college instead -- but rather the presence of a few American literati.
The story takes place following the Civil War, in Boston, mostly near Harvard University. The literary scholars, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell were all real Dante aficionados, and J.T. Fields was the real publisher. They've come together, forming the Dante Club, to translate Dante's Inferno into English for the first time.
What's surprising is how resistant the Harvard leadership is to their project. They don't feel the Italian authors are worth learning, that this translation is a waste of time, and it may even have a detrimental impact on American culture. This puts immediate strain on the Dante Club since most of its members have a Harvard connection.
All of this part of the story is real. Then, the (fictional) murders start. Each one is very unique and specific, and suddenly the Dante Club realizes they're imitating the gruesome punishments from the Inferno. This correlation compels the club to use their knowledge to help unravel the mystery of the murders. Naming the murderer Lucifer, they must work fast to figure out who they are and what their motivation is before another death occurs.
Working against the clock, and some local detectives, it's a rush investigation that requires ingenuity and determination, making the mystery thrilling to follow.
This is an exciting and passionate book both in how the characters approach solving the murders and in their desire to translate Dante. Both are massive undertakings, and the juxtaposition of the two is so great to read. This is a very good, very smart, and very unexpected book. I really liked it!