As in many of Dickens's greatest vels, the gulf between appearance and reality drives the action. Set in the seemingly incuous cathedral town of Cloisterham, the story rapidly darkens with a sense of impending evil. Central to the plot is John Jasper: in public he is a man of integrity and benevolence, in private he is an opium addict. And while seeming to smile on the engagement of his nephew, Edwin Drood, he is, in fact, consumed by jealousy, driven to terrify the boy's fiancee and to plot the murder of Edwin himself. Though The Mystery of Edwin Drood is one of its author's darkest books, it also bustles with a vast roster of memorable-and delightfully named-mir characters: Mrs. Billikins, the landlady; the foolish Mr. Sapsea; the domineering philanthropist, Mr. Honeythunder; and the mysterious Datchery. Several attempts have been made over the years to complete the vel and solve the mystery, but even in its unfinished state it is a gripping and haunting masterpiece.
Peter Ackroyd has written biographies of - amongst others - Dickens, Eliot and Blake. His novels include Hawksmoor and Chatterton.