I can't remember where I read the review of Drood, by Dan Simmons, but I do remember that it suggested that you read David Copperfield, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Woman in White, and The Moonstone as prerequisites. I don't think I've ever read a novel that required you to read four other novels just to be sufficiently informed enough to appreciate it. So I was expecting Drood to be very serious and literary and it turned out to be a gruesome horror novel. Color me surprised!
This is a literary horror novel. Narrated by Wilkie Collins, it follows Charles Dickens closely during the last years of his life and mixes real events from their lives with spooky incidents involving a mysterious character known only as Drood.
The real Charles Dickens, in 1865, survived the Staplehurst rail crash, an accident of the sort that seems to happen in action movies with huge special effects budgets. Workmen had dismantled some of the structure supporting a railway bridge and the train Dickens was on wasn't notified in time. The bridge collapsed when the train was midway across. The car Dickens was in, near the front of the train, somehow managed to stay on the rails and all the cars behind Dickens' plunged into the river below. It's said (via Wikepedia, anyway) that Dickens never fully recovered from the trauma. He died five years later.
The novel opens with the Staplehurst accident. Dickens climbs down to the river and tries to help the victims. A mysterious and hideously deformed character is there too. He introduces himself to Dickens as Drood, and wherever Drood is present among the victims, they die.
Dickens becomes obsessed with Drood and takes Wilkie Collins along on an excursion into London's literal underworld to find him. Collins and Dickens were collaborators and, if Collins' narrative can be believed, competitors. The fictional Collins may have liked to have seen himself as a legitimate rival against Dickens for most popular author in England but anyone who has read books by both men would know that there was no contest. Dickens is far and away the better writer.
In the novel, Collins himself becomes more and more obsessed with Drood. He is a heavy user of laudanum, an opiate drug, and as his laudanum use increases, and as he starts to visit opium dens and inject himself with morphine, the story gets stranger and Wilkie Collins gradually changes from a gentle, mildly bumbling man into a murderer. Is there really a monster named Drood who is a king of "Undertown"? Is he a man or is he a figment of Collins' opium-fueled hallucinations? I don't want to spoil it, so I'll just conclude by saying that Drood was so creepy that I was afraid to walk through my house, alone in the dark (as I usually do, first thing in the morning). Drood is a hefty 800 pages, but it's a page turner.