“He was cadaverously thin, almost shockingly pale, and stared at the writer from dark-shadowed eyes set deep under a pale, high brow that melded into a pale, bald scalp. A few strands of graying hair lept out from the sides of this skull-like visage.” –  Dan Simmons, Drood

Author Dan Simmons

THE NOVEL Drood, by Dan Simmons, is based on the last years of Charles Dickens’ life and his unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, much like Matthew Pearl’s The Last Dickens. However, Simmons’ account is notably darker and more geared toward horror than a whodunit. [Author Image Taken From Book Jacket]

The story is a first-person narration from the perspective of Wilkie Collins, a close friend and collaborator of Dickens; he was also his occasional literary rival. Collins was famous for his gothic mysteries, such as The Woman in White and The Moonstone, and is generally credited with starting the detective genre rather than Edgar Allen Poe. Collins suffered from gout, which led to an opiate addiction. In the novel, he is self-absorbed and condescending, with an exaggerated sense of his own talent, and constantly compares himself to Dickens.

In 1865, there was a train accident known as the Staplehurst Rail Disaster, and this is where our story begins. Charles Dickens was on board, and although he survived, he witnessed horrific and odd events during the rescue operation. In the chaos, he encountered a ghoulish, emaciated man called Drood, who seemed to be preying on the injured survivors. This encounter with Drood left Dickens and Collins obsessed with discovering more about him. At the height of his literary fame, Dickens was lucky to have survived the disaster, but the mystery of Drood would continue to haunt him and his friend.

In the search for Drood, Simmons focuses on the friendship between Dickens and Collins and how it gradually declines over time; living in the shadow of the world’s most renowned author is not an easy feat. Wilkie consistently battles his laudanum addiction throughout the story. [Image On Left: Cover of serial No. 2, September 1870; Art By Charles Allston Collins]

Simmons skillfully weaves his tale by narrating it through Collins’ eyes, using a memoir-like structure that captivates the reader with the character’s recollections. This style is reminiscent of Dracula, where Stoker tells his story through journal excerpts, diary entries, and ship logs, and this draws the reader into the narrative through an engaging and intriguing personal account. While Dracula presents diverse perspectives, Drood is told from Collins’ singular, self-medicated viewpoint, coloured by his biases. As a result, the actions and motives of the other characters in the story are filtered through Collins’ lens, making for a unique and potentially unreliable portrayal of events. Are things as supernatural and uncanny as our narrator perceives them to be?

The writing here is clean and visceral, harkening back to the evocative way 19th-century novelists wrote; Drood is an elevated narrative but never overly grandiloquent. [See what I did there?] Countless provocative scenes of danger, pursuit, and murder will chill you to the bone, as any well-written piece of Gothic literature should. 

 As stated in my review of The Last Dickens, in the nineteenth century, the serialization of stories often occurred before they were published in book form, which is one of the main reasons they were so long. Drood is no exception to the typical book-length of a Victorian Gothic Novel; it’s massive, nearly 800 pages. But Drood is neither dull nor plodding, not in the middle or anywhere else. To fully appreciate the book, one should approach it without preconceived notions or biases against descriptive narratives with extended passages. It’s not a quick read finished in a night or two. Instead, it offers a thoughtful, immersive experience that transports readers into a world of Victorian darkness, mystery, and danger.

Take a trip from the streets of Kent, where Dickens spent his final years, to the slums of London, where Collins finds himself in the underbelly of opium dens. In all of Simmons’ historical novels, he adeptly blurs the lines between fact and fiction, creating a captivating blend of classic gothic mystery and suspense and modern horror aesthetics. This is why Simmons’ works like The TerrorThe Abominable, and Drood are so successful – they defy literary conventions and expected genre tropes, surpassing readers’ expectations. [Image On Left: Portrait Of Wilkie Collins by Charles Allston Collins, 1853.]

I found myself occasionally questioning Collins’ accounts, scrutinizing every detail, trying to determine what parts were factual and what parts might be lies or exaggerations as a result of his opium-influenced delusions. Does Drood exist in the way Collins sees him? Does he possess any supernatural abilities, or is it all just hyperbole? And I wholeheartedly believe that this narrative construct is intentional on Simmons’s part. The author’s vivid descriptions of the varied settings and brilliant character development make for an engaging read. The dark humour that Simmons infuses in Drood helps to even out the protagonists’ often insufferable arrogance, showing how complex they are as individuals and that there’s more to them than conceit and competitiveness that success and fame can too easily inspire.

Drood, by Dan Simmons, is incredibly well written, impeccably researched, moody and atmospheric to the highest calibre.

Drood is available for purchase at, and Barnes & Noble.


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