When his publisher hears news of Dickens’ untimely death, he and his assistant embark on a transatlantic quest to unearth the rest of Dickens’ final mystery. But they’re not the only ones searching: the story Dickens was half-way through (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) may have been based on a real murder, and the murderers will not risk being exposed.

The journey that follows affords a glimpse into lives, sufferings and social scenes so familiar to us from Dickens’ own stories.

We see honest versus dishonest work, romance delicately delayed until circumstances allow it (a woman who left an abusive husband waits for an annulment). And one reformed patron of 19th century opium dens discourages those who would try it, “Do not talk to me of will, man! For will is what I have lost, what has shrivelled and died inside of me!”

Finally, on truth and fiction Pearl gives Dickens himself my favourite line: “Books do pretend …but squeezed in between is even more that is true – without what you may call the lies, the pages would be too light for the truth, you see?”

A most enjoyable story, like reading a Dickens about Dickens.

Clare Cannon lives in Sydney where she is editor of The Good Reading Guide and manager of Portico Books,...