Dan Simmons likes to write about writing. But he does it in a way that I can’t call academic — even though I know there is a considerable amount of academic legwork that goes into each of his novels. Simmons is a storyteller; he’s a storyteller that likes to tell fictions that are “mostly true”. Which is say, not true at all. But it resembles the truth. Or casts a shadow of truth behind it somewhere. Simmons writes about what he knows and Simmons knows authors. Earnest Hemingway, John Keats, Mark Twain— they’ve all made appearances in Simmons novels. Drood features Charles Dickens described with an unsteady hand by Dickens’ unreliable contemporary and friend, Wilkie Collins.

The setup from the back cover reads:

On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, fifty-three-year-old Charles Dickens — at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful author in the world — hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.

Simmons has talked about writing this novel for almost a decade. He originally considered the title, The Great Oven. In the intervening years the structure has changed and the plot focused upon the last five years of Dickens’ life and Dickens’ own uncompleted work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Those last five years shroud a sharp shift in behavior from the world’s most popular author. It makes a fantastic setting for a mystery. Dickens, Collins, Simmons investigate the worst slums of London. The Whitechapel of Oliver and Jack.

And a ghoulish figure named Drood.