Ready for our last Christmas mystery review? Here you go.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
This book is known as the unsolvable mystery due to one reason, it is unfinished. Charles Dickens began writing this in the summer of 1869, when he was sick and ailing, dying a year later and leaving his last mystery unsolved.
It has stumped and angered people for over a hundred years as no one knows what happened. Did something bad happen to Edwin? Did he leave of his own free will? Was he murdered? Kidnapped? If murdered who is the killer? It can be very frustrating.
In fact many people have tried a hand at solving the “unsolvable crime”.
- In 1870, Robert Henry Newell published his version of the story, transporting the tale to America and more a parody than anything else.
- 1871-1872, John Jasper’s Secret: The Sequel to Charles Dicken’s Mystery of Edwin Drood, was published by Henry Morford. In this version John Jasper tries to kill Edwin, but he escapes.
- In 1873, Thomas Jane wrote his version of the ending and was praised as the “true version” for a long period of time as many believed him when he said that he had channeled Dickins’ actual spirit in writing.
- In 1935, Universal came out with the film Mystery of Edwin Drood, starring Claude Rains as John Jasper and David Manners as Edwin Drood.
- In 1980, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was published by Leon Garfield. In his book every loose end is wrapped up by his introduction of several new characters.
- In 1985 the musical Drood, aka The Mystery of Edwin Drood, came out. In this the audience is able to vote on who they think the killer should be. It was revived in 2012.
- In 1992, Peter Rowland wrote The Disappearance of Edwin Drood, in which years after the incident a very old John Jasper asks Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to solve the case.
- In 1993 The D. Case or the Truth About the Mystery of Edwin Drood by Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini was published with the most famous literary detectives attempting to solve the mystery. It features Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, and more.
- In 1993, A&E distributed the film The Mystery of Edwin Drood, starring Robert Powell as John Jasper and Jonathan Phillips as Edwin Drood.
- In 2005, the Doctor Who episode, The Unquiet Dead, has Dickens and the Doctor fighting aliens, causing him to end the novel with the Gelth being the murderer.
- In 2012, The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Part II, The Solution, by David Saunders was published. He believes that not only is John Jasper a red herring, but that there is another murder that has been overlooked.
- In 2012, BBC produced a two episode mini-series that took a lot of liberties with the book in it’s portrayal. It made Ned and Helen Indian, John Jasper secretly Edwin’s brother not uncle, and Ned & Helen the half siblings of both Edwin and John Jasper.
So as you can see there is a lot of what other people wanted the book to be like, but what is the actual story? Let’s take a look.
Now let me say before we begin, I HATED this book.
I know!!!! I can’t believe it either. I LOVE Charles Dickens. I LOVE everything he has written. It pains to to even think about writing these words, but this book sucked. Really sucked. So what went wrong? Let’s review what made this Dickens’ fan upset.
So the first problem I have with this particular edition, not with Dickens’ actual book, is the introduction by , who tells the reader that the killer is John Jasper.
Hello this is A MYSTERY!!! You just don’t tell someone the end unless you say spoilers ahead. I mean HOW COULD YOU!!!
That be like if in Bones, they decided that instead of you trying to use the hour to figure out which of the people is the killer, they just told you in the beginning. Heck no. You do not do that. That is beyond horrible. How could you!!!!
Screw you Peter Ackroyd! And may all your writings be filled with typos for the pain you have caused!!!!!!!!!!!!
So from now on, anything in the review will be on Dickens work. Let’s get started.
So any of you who have read a Dickens’ book, you know the basic formula. We are given a group of characters, and as they develop we end up discovering that they are somehow all more closely related than we could ever think. Lots of great scenes, memorable lines, and extremely lovable characters.
This book is not like that at all.
So we start of with John Jasper, choirmaster in a small Cathedral town (based on Rochester), who is at the moment residing in an opium den.
Yeah, that’s some serious commentary for an opening. I didn’t see that coming, that’s for sure.
Anyways, he had this vision of murdering his nephew, Edwin Drood. Edwin and Jasper are very close in age, only about five years apart. When his parents died, Edwin was sent to live with his grandparents. After their deaths, he was sent to his uncle Jasper’s. As the two were close in age, they became more of a relationship of brothers rather than uncle and nephew. Edwin is the only one to call Jasper “Jack”, and Jasper the only one to call Edwin “Ned”. And why would Jasper wish to kill his nephew/almost a brother; keep reading to find out.
So Jasper is a huge opium addict, but no one notices. They all see his shortness of breath, sallowness of skin, tired eyes; but they all accept his explanation of not sleeping well. I think part of it is the fact they would never consider a gentleman, especially one who is employed in a church, could be on drugs.
Anyways, Edwin is now residing in London, learning the engineering trade as he inherits his father’s business at the age of 21. He will also be getting wed to his father’s best friend’s daughter, Rosa “Pussy” Bud (I know what a stupid name to give a child). He is currently visiting the town to see Jack, and visit with Rosa as it her birthday.
Now Rosa is not only the fiancé of Edwin, but is also being given music lessons by Jasper. He keeps a sketch Edwin made of her over the mantle, leaving me to guess that there is more than singing that Jasper wants from Rosa.
I know in Emma, Mr. Elton took the picture of Harriet Smith because he liked Emma, and she painted it; but in this case I don’t think the reason he hangs Rosa in a place of honor has anything to do with Edwin being the artist.
Edwin is being kind of sarcastic about his upcoming nuptials with Rosa as he doesn’t want to marry her and he doesn’t really want to become an engineer. When his father wrote the will, he put in it about the business and getting married to Rosa, of which Rosa’s father did the same in his will. Edwin doesn’t hate Rosa or engineering, he just hates the fact that his life has been written out for him.
Jasper gets very angry at him treating Rosa that way, that she is too good for him. Edwin apologizes and agrees.
We then meet Rosa.
I have disliked a few literary characters in my time but none as much as Rosa Bud. Ugh. She is just so horrible and infuriating. I dislike her more than words can describe.
So Rosa lives in a school for young ladies, residing there ever since the death of her parents. She very much does not want to get married to Edwin, and because she’s not adult enough to talk to him about her feelings, she just whines the whole time and tries to hurt Edwin in every way she can. Instead of acting like the 18 years she is, she acts like a five-year old having a tantrum.
She goes on about how absurd the whole engagement is, calls Edwin ugly, that she never wants to dance with him, and tells him that she’s tired of him. Now what about this character is so charming that everyone would fall in love with her.
She’s just jerk to me.
Now this character would work if she was innocent and naive in not knowing how this hurts or affects him, in a sense having no filter but just saying anything she thinks of feels. But that is not how the character is written. In this she is upset and unhappy and is purposely striking out against him. She knows what she is doing. I mean think of Brave. Merida was someone you loved because she was just being herself. She didn’t understand, until the end of the film, that being an adult means you have responsibilities and that every choice you make will have an outcome that you have to be ready for. When she shoots the arrow at the bullseye, “winning her own hand in marriage”, she’s not doing it on purpose to snub her family, culture, and say that her suitors are unworthy; she just is thinking as a child. A type of ” I want this so I’m going to do this”. Rosa knows she is purposely being cruel to Edwin, and instead of being an adult and either accepting the marriage, making the best out of it: or choosing to say no to her fortune an not marry Edwin; she decides to make his life Hell.
So they go for a walk and Rosa tells Edwin they are going to play a game. In this game Edwin is engaged to someone else and she is engaged to no one. Edwin doesn’t really want to play, but she constantly pushes him, until he gives in. He starts describing his “fake fiancé” making her appearance the opposite of Rosa. The “girl” is nice, charming, has a big nose, likes engineering, and is happy to have to move to Egypt with Edwin when he inherits the company. And Rosa gets Jealous.
I can’t be- I mean seriously, seriously. She gets SUPER JEALOUS of a IMAGINARY FIANCE of a guy SHE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE. Like what is wrong with her? She is incredibly crazy. As Edwin goes on to describe “the fake girl” Rosa says the most horrible things. That his “dream girl” is gawky, with gigantic nose that is incredibly red, so ugly skinned she has to use powder, that is supremely stupid, etc. She then goes on to make fun of engineering and Egypt.
Like what is her deal? Why does everyone fall in love with her? I mean this is a common character in Dickens’ work, there is always a female that every guy is crazy about. But in his other books, they actually have an appeal about them. In Great Expectations, Estella was cruel and cold, yes, but not all the time. As she was trained to be a heartbreaker, her adoptive mother’s weapon upon men, she at first made the men fall for her, only to after crush every bit of them afterwards. In A Tale of Two Cities, Lucy was loved by all, as her father was the only male character not interested in marrying her, but she was sweet, kind, and caring. Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist; sweet, kind, gentle, and pure. I could go on, but I think you get the point that Rose sucks.
So I was kind of done with this novel at this point. The plot was extremely boring thus far. Jasper is a jerk trying to scam on his nephew’s fiancé and a tad deranged by opium. Rosie is obnoxious, cruel, and extremely annoying. The only character I care for is Edwin, but even he can’t carry the whole book.
But I didn’t give up. I continued on, and you want to know why? Why I bothered to continue reading something I knew I would not love no matter what? All because I purchased the book The Disappearance of Edwin Drood by Peter Rowland at a library book sale, and knew I could not read it until I had finished the original. So I pushed on.
So Edwin and Rosa argue some more, Rosa stupidly with Edwin not winning no matter what he says. However, this whole time Jasper is spying on them (further proof he is in love with Rosa) and Rosa tells Edwin to take her back to the house.
Durdles, the stonemason for the crypts & graveyards, is talking with the Mayor about his late wife’s tombstone. Jasper runs into to them, and goes off with the mayor. He returns that night to speak to Durdles about the “mysteries of the crypts”.
Reverend Septimus, the minor canon, is taking in twin orphans, Neville and Helena Landless. Neville will stay with the Reverand, while Helena will move into the school that Rosa resides. The twins’ ages are not stated but they are around the ages of Rosa and Edwin (18-21).
The two are from Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka, island off the coast of India) but it is not stated whether they are of that descent of if their family was British. It describes them as dark, but do they mean tanned “dark”, dark coloring as in hair, or dark as in Indian? I guess it doesn’t matter that much.
Their mother remarried when they were young, and died when they were still children. They had been living with a cruel stepfather who used to starve them, not give them any clothes, beat them, etc. He’s lucky he died before Neville decided to kill him.
Because of this upbringing, Neville has a quick temper, sees faults and injustice in almost everything, and can be sullen and rude.
So the Landlesses join the Reverend and his mother for their Wednesday get togethers; with Edwin, Rose, and Jasper joining them like always. Ned sees Rosa and falls for her instantly, ( I can’t imagine why). Jasper sets out to play while Rosa sings like usual. This time, Rosa can’t be in Jasper’s presence and completely freaks out, throwing another tantrum. Helena recognizes that Rose is five-year-old in a woman’s body and carries her away to lie down on the sofa.
Edwin tells everyone that Rosa was nervous in such a large crowd (two extra people). He kids with Jasper about him scaring her, and Jasper leaves. The Rev. decides that the night is late and the party ends. Rosa and Helena go home in which Helena asks about her and Edwin. Rosa complains about it to Helena. And all I can think is Helena is a saint. If I had been through all she had been through (plus if she is Indian, then she has not only experienced emotional and physical abuse but also prejudice), and then heard the sob story of rich Rosa being so upset because she has to get married to a nice guy; I’d be like girl please. Shut up and come back to me when you have a real problem.
But Helena says nothing of the sort, just asks Rosa to be her friend.
Helena then shares her observation that Jasper is in love with Rosa. Rosa is utterly disgusted by Jasper as he scares her, haunting her thoughts; proclaiming his words of love not in words but in the melody he plays, etc. Now this part confused me. I mean WE the reader know Jasper is bad. He is an opium addict and contemplating killing his nephew; but why does Rosa think so? We aren’t presented with anything he has done to scare her. It just doesn’t make sense. Why is he so villainous?
Anyways, the boys have done their duty of escorting the girls home. Edwin finds himself attracted to Helena, and I have to admit for a moment I thought “maybe he and Helena will get together instead of him and Rose”. Then I realized that was a stupid thought as the book is called The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He must die or disappear.
Neville tries to congratulate Edwin on his upcoming marriage, but Edwin is not that excited. This makes Neville angry as he doesn’t know the way Rosa treats Edwin. The two get into a fight with Jasper coming along and breaking it up. He brings them in for a drink to smooth things over, but unfortunately, it doesn’t help. Neville is jealous of all he thinks Edwin has and remarks that he would be better of he had experienced hardships in his life instead of having things “easy”. Now I know Edwin has money and his life mapped out, but things haven’t been exactly easy. He’s had to go through the death of his parents and grandparents; both being people who have raised him. That’s a hard loss. He also has a shrew of a fiancé. It may not be the same as Neville’s experiences, but it is far from “easy”.
Neville and Edwin get into another fight. Neville calls Edwin common, and Edwin retorts that he “may know a black common fellow…but you are no judge of white men.” Ah, so they are most likely Indian.
Sorry, back to fight. Neville is offended and flings his drink at Edwin. He is about to send the glass, but Jasper stops him and he sends him home.
The next day, Jasper comes to see the Rev. and tells him he must send Neville away, as he is crazy and fears that he might hurt Edwin. The Rev. defends Neville and says that he will stay.
Rumors start flying about the attack, each time painting Neville as eviler and eviler. It does not look good.
So now we switch to my least favorite character, Rosa, who is having a meeting with her lawyer Mr. Grewgious. Let me say, I love this man. Favorite character of the book. He is so awesome and adorable. Awerable. Adorsome.
He gives Rosa a copy of her father’s will, and is planning on giving one to Jasper, as he is Edwin’s guardian. Rosa pleads to give it to Edwin instead, and Mr. Grewgious agrees to. Rosa asks him about the will and what would happen if she and Edwin were not to get married. Mr. Grewgious says, absolutely nothing.
It seems as if everyone has misunderstood. Whether or not they will marry, both were inherit all of their family’s wealth. There was never any setup betrothal by the parents, they just hoped and wished the two would fall in love and marry.
The Rev. speaks to Neville, telling him he must leave Rosa alone as she is engaged and not free to be anything to him. You may not like Edwin or approve of how he treats her, which to me I saw no big tuzzle, but he is her fiancé and will be her husband. So back off and back very far away.
Jasper comes to see the Rev. and speaks more of his fears that Neville will do something. He shows him the journal entries he wrote about how scared he is and how he feels evil coming out of Neville. The Rev. convinces him to give the boys another chance to be friends. A couple days later he comes back with a note from Edwin, who agrees with the Rev. He asks Jasper to invite Neville to Christmas Eve dinner.
Back in London, Mr. Grewgious has asked Edwin to come by so that they may clear up a few particulars. We are introduced to his paralegal, a Mr. Bazzard who does not wish to be a lawyer and is mopey and rude.
Anyways, Mr. Grewgious pulls out Rosa’s mother’s ring. Her father gave it to Mr. Grewgious for safekeeping, to be given to the man who was to be Rosa’s husband. He tells Edwin that when he places the ring on Rosa’s finger it will it an unbreakable seal that they are to be married. If Edwin has any doubts at all about the marriage, the two should break their “pre-engagement” and Edwin should return the ring to Mr. Grewgious.
Jaspar and Durdles meet up for Jasper’s tour among the tombs. They see quick-lime along the way, something used to decompose the body quickly. While they are doing that, Jasper sees the Rev. and Neville walking and spies on them. He can only hear his name, Christmas, and that this is all in confidence. It doesn’t take a genius that the Rev. is discussing the dinner, and Jasper’s fears; trying to convince Neville to be calm.
Jasper gives Durdles a bottle of liquor, which quickly knocks him out. When Durdles wakes up, his key is next to him, not in his pocket. You know what that means, Jasper purposely brought the alcohol because he knew Durdles would drink to excess, and then he could still the key and unlock a door to a crypt.
Edwin comes to see Rosa, who is enjoying her last Christmas party at school as her and Edwin are supposed to be married soon. Edwin isn’t happy as the conversation with Mr. Grewgious has really pickled his conscience and leaves him unsure as to whether or not he should marry her. The ring hangs heavy in his pocket. The two go off together and Rosa says she doesn’t want to marry him, she wants them to be like brother and sister. Edwin is a little hurt at her words, but agrees that he doesn’t love her in any other way.
Both are happier with the decision, but Edwin is worried about Jasper. He knows how much Jasper cares for him and how heartbroken he will hear that they won’t be getting married, as he will be hurting for Edwin.
Rosa is also worried that with her and Edwin no longer engaged, Jasper might voice his attraction. She decides the best person to tell him will be Mr. Grewgious, and Edwin agrees.
It turns out that Jasper had been spying on them. Unfortunately, he was much too far away to hear anything and assumes that by their happy faces they are eager for the wedding day.
Neville Landless is preparing to take a walking tour (hike) of his new country, not only to look at it but to separate him from his infatuation of Rosa. Before he leaves that night for Christmas Eve dinner, he packs his clothes and his brand new walking stick, which is iron shod. He is ready. The Rev doesn’t like it, thinking it is extremely heavy, but Neville says it will be good for his practice as he has never hiked before. He promises to write Helena every other day.
Edwin goes to do some errands, stopping at the jewelers to get his watch fixed. The jeweler hardly ever sees Edwin as all he wears is his watch and chain and a shirt pin. As he is heading out he runs into a women who looks tired and torn up. It is Princess Puffer, the women who runs the opium den that Jasper was visiting at the beginning of the novel. She has followed Jasper to warn the Ned Jasper was trying to kill in his opium dream, but has lost him. She is begging for money to return home, and Edwin takes pity on her giving her some. She asks what her benefactor’s name is. When he says Edwin, she asks him if he is ever called Ned, warning him that that is a dangerous name to have.
The next day Jasper goes charging to the Rev’s house demanding to know where Edwin is. The Rev has no idea what he is talking about. He tells them that Neville came over, the boys hung out, and then Edwin and Neville went off to look at the storm and never came back.
Neville had started early that morning, and its not long after that he is accosted by eight men. They fight with Neville, him using his walking stick to brain a few. They eventually overpower him, and it turns out they set out to get him after Jasper raised the alarm.
Jasper sees the blood on Neville and his stick and starts pointing fingers. Neville retorts that when attacked by eight people he quickly defended himself, pointing to the men in the group that he smacked.
A group of people start checking the banks for Edwin, while Jasper spreads about town his suspicions surrounding Neville.
Mr. Grewgious comes to see Jasper and tells him that Edwin and Rosa broke off the engagement. They were worried in how Jasper would take it, so Mr. Grewgious was elected to bring the news. Jasper faints.
When he awakes he is joyful, as he now hopes that Edwin took off for fear of upsetting Jasper, and wasn’t murdered. Mr. Grewgious is a little shocked by how quick his demeanor changed and very suspicious.
The Rev. walks about the river weir, upon which he pots something shiny. It turns out to be Edwin’s watch, chain, and shirt pin. No doubt about it. Something bad happened to Edwin Drood.
Six months have passed, and because of the mistrust the people had against Neville, he has moved from the town to London. He has an apartment next to Lietenant Tartar, who recently inherited a massive fortune and land. As he has always lived at sea, he is slowly working his way up to bigger and bigger living places, in hopes of one day being fully comfortable in his inherited home. Tartar is the best character on this whole entire book. I just love him.
A stranger appears in Cloisterham, who has a huge shock of white hair and goes by the name Datchery. We never find out who he is, but I always thought it was one of the characters in disguise, but which one?
Meanwhile, after waiting six months Jasper decides now is the time to make his move. He tells Rosa that he is madly in love with her. How he has hidden his affections for the love of his nephew. When that doesn’t work he tries to blackmail her by saying he has evidence that will prove Neville a killer, marry him or else.
Rosa is confused as why does that affect her. Neville doesn’t like her, and never said anything. Jasper tells her that if Neville suffers, so will his sister and she doesn’t wish to hurt her best friend, does she?
Rosa takes off. She is so worried, but manages to get down to London to see Mr. Grewgious. She tells him everything along with how Jasper frightens her so.
The Rev. comes to see Mr. Grewgious, as the headmaster was worried as to what happened to Rosa. He is told the while story and also sees Lt. Tartar, who turns out to be an old buddy of his from school. Rosa stays at Lt. Tartar’s house until they can find her other arrangements. As Helena is visiting her brother, she hears Rosa and the two girls are reunited.
They find Rosa a place, of which Miss Twinkleton, one of the Headmistresses, has promised to come and chaperone her. Rosa enjoys Lt. Tartar’s company and in my reading of it, if the book had been finished the two would have married.
Jasper returns to the opium den. When he leaves, Princess Puffer follows him. Jasper conducts his usual singing, with Princess Puffer watching from behind a column. Datchery speaks to her, and finds out who she is. He then goes home and marks the cupboard door.
Thoughts after reading:
I didn’t care for this mystery at all. I thought most of the characters were boring or annoying. The mystery seems to point to one conclusion, that Jasper did it, which is no real mystery at all. It just was not what I expected from Charles Dickins.
And I don’t completely blame him as he was ill, and in that state he was having a hard time making things the way he usually did. But yeah, this book was just not that good.
For more Christmas mysteries, go to Candy Canes of Christmas Past
For more not in a series mysteries, go to The Barter
For more reviews, go to Sugar Cookie Murder