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Book of Air and Shadows
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Book of Air and Shadows

3.2 81
by Michael Gruber

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A fire destroys a New York City rare bookstore—and reveals clues to a treasure worth killing for. . . . A disgraced scholar is found tortured to death. . . . And those pursuing the most valuable literary find in history are about to cross from the harmless mundane into inescapable nightmare.

From the acclaimed, bestselling author of Tropic of Night


A fire destroys a New York City rare bookstore—and reveals clues to a treasure worth killing for. . . . A disgraced scholar is found tortured to death. . . . And those pursuing the most valuable literary find in history are about to cross from the harmless mundane into inescapable nightmare.

From the acclaimed, bestselling author of Tropic of Night comes a breathtaking thriller that twists, shocks, and surprises at every turn as it crisscrosses centuries, from the glaring violence of today into the dark shadows of truth and lies surrounding the greatest writer the world has ever known.

Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
“A smart thriller. Gruber’s themes may be lofty but his people are fully fleshed. An engaging adventure.”
Rocky Mountain News
“Finely-honed prose, ambitious structure and captivating characters...This is a whip-smart adventure that surpasses its competitors with dexterity.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Gruber deftly raises the thriller stakes and accelerates the plot while still creating convincing personal journeys for his characters.”
Ventura County Star
“(An) entertaining thriller with Da Vinci Code appeal but far better writing.”
Seattle Times
“Fearless, intricate and intelligent. Stylish and confident prose. Dialogue that respects a reader’s intelligence. A smart and original plot.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“A gripping literary thriller. A taut novel that offers ingenious puzzles plus murderous threats along the way.”
“Another one of [Gruber’s] patently intricate thrillers.”
“MIchael Gruber pulls out all the stops (in) an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse.”
“Very good...ingenious and suspenseful.”
“Not since Bayatt’s POSSESSION has an author so successfully combined literary puzzle, tempestuous duplicity, human adventure and good storytelling.”
Entertainment Weekly
“A dead genius, a sleuthing couple with romantic chemistry, and some bad guys...it’s a fun party.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Gruber is no ordinary writer.”
Dallas Morning News
“A crackling whodunit. Characters (with) rich inner lives that transmute genre fiction into literature.”
Wichita Eagle
“A wild ride of a thriller. The characters have depth, histories and believability.”
Chicago Tribune
“A wonderful book, brimming with energy, suspense, wit and fascinating details about the rare book business. A fast-paced yarn that is part Henry James, part James Bond.
Arizona Republic
“Smart and irreverent.”
“Quirky, flawed characters, tricksy first-person narration, and nimble, witty prose. Gruber is the real deal.”
Edmonton Journal (Canada)
“(An) intoxicating mix of fact, fiction, secret codes and ancient conspiracies...well-written and cleverly told. A terrific thriller.”
USA Today
“Few thrillers will surpass [this book] when it comes to energetic writing, compellingly flawed characters, literary scholarship and mathematical conundrums.”
Denver Post
“An intricately crafted and literate work (that) should give the (thriller) genre a good shake.”
Tampa Tribune
“(An) intelligent thrill ride.”
Washington Post
“If you love books, make room on the shelf for a new guilty pleasure.”
Charlotte Observer
“One of the best new writers in the genre.”
"Gruber deftly raises the thriller stakes and accelerates the plot while still creating convincing personal journeys for his characters."
Ron Charles
What follows is a wild story of double-crossings, forgeries, kidnappings and murders that's engrossing even when it's ridiculous. (At one point, the code secret is tattooed on a beautiful woman's thigh -- so handy.) We've got Russian mobsters, Jewish gangsters, Nazi thieves, international models and currency traders, oh my. And all of this madcap adventure in the present is mirrored in a story we gradually decipher from that 17th-century letter, describing a nefarious plot by radical Puritans to entrap "the secret papist Shaxpure." While twisting the plot into great knots of complexity, Gruber mixes in fascinating details about rare manuscripts, intellectual property, and ancient and modern cryptography.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In this ingenious literary thriller from Gruber (The Witch's Boy), the lives of two men are changed forever by William Shakespeare and the letters of Richard Bracegirdle, a 16th-century English spy and soldier. Jake Mishkin, a Manhattan intellectual property attorney and a bit of a rake, goes on the run from Russian gangsters. Albert Crosetti, an aspiring filmmaker working for an antiquarian bookstore, finds that life is more exciting than movies—perhaps too exciting. Together, Mishkin and Crosetti travel to England in search of a previously unknown Shakespeare manuscript mentioned by Bracegirdle. Though the pace sometimes slows to allow Mishkin, Crosetti and Bracegirdle to divulge interesting aspects of their personal lives, these digressions only make the story more engaging. The suspense created around the double-crosses and triple-crosses works because of the close connection readers forge with Crosetti in particular. The mysterious murder of a Shakespearean scholar, shootouts in the streets of Queens and an unlikely romance all combine to make for a gripping, satisfying read. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Praised author Gruber (Tropic of Night) attempts to join The Da Vinci Codefrenzy in his latest thriller, which centers on a hunt for an unknown autographed Shakespeare play. References to this play turn up in seemingly innocuous letters used as filler in the binding of an old book. Mishkin, an intellectual property attorney, comes into possession of some of these documents through his client, a Shakespearean scholar. Crosetti, who discovered the papers while working at a rare-book store, partners with Mishkin to find the play after the scholar's murder. The play is eventually found, but has it all been an intricate scam? Though the book sounds enthralling on paper, it falls far short. The letters are transcribed for us—slow-reading Jacobean English thrust into a thriller. Think rumble strips on an interstate. Gruber is heavy on the family drama and introspection, too. The best part: librarians are portrayed as brilliant and sexy. This difficult-to-follow novel is recommended only for popular fiction collections desiring all of this author's titles. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/06.]
—Laura A.B. Cifelli Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
Encoded Jacobean documents suggest the existence of an un-produced Shakespeare play written in the bard's own hand. There is, as one would expect, considerable interest in the location of that work. Thriller author Gruber (Night of the Jaguar, 2006, etc.) steps away from his usual Miami haunts to make mischief in New York in a fast-moving and often hilarious tale about the usually torpid worlds of rare books and academia. The action begins with a grease fire that spreads from a restaurant to the rare-book shop next door, where labors would-be screenwriter Albert Crosetti, youngest of the many prodigiously talented children of a librarian and her late detective husband. Alone in the shop, Albert is able to rescue the most valuable volumes, but water severely damages one of the gems in the basement, a work that the store's owner gives to Albert's coworker Carolyn Rolly to break up for its prints and maps, as he reports a total loss to the insurers. With Albert's assistance, Carolyn, a gifted bookbinder, sets about reconstructing the book for possible resale and discovers, packed under the binding, correspondence from Richard Bracegirdle, a 17th-century puritan spy with a connection to Shakespeare. Albert has fallen in love with Carolyn during the damage-control process, and the two take the documents for authentication to a Columbia professor who in turn takes them for safekeeping to intellectual-property lawyer, world-class skirt-chaser and Olympian weightlifter Jake Mishkin. The professor's death by torture at the hands of Russian thugs pushes Mishkin into a detection process that imperils his and Albert's families and ultimately takes everyone to Warwickshire to try to unearth what maybe the most valuable theatrical property in the universe. A wonderful story with absolutely superb casting. Agent: Simon Lipskar/Writers House LLC
From the Publisher
"Stylish and confident prose…. Dialogue that respects a reader's intelligence. A smart and original plot…. And…a sense of humor." ---The Seattle Times

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.11(d)

Read an Excerpt

Book of Air and Shadows, The LP

Chapter One

Tap-tapping the keys and out come the words on this little screen, and who will read them I hardly know. I could be dead by the time anyone actually sees this, as dead as, say, Tolstoy. Or Shakespeare. Does it matter, when you read, if the person who wrote still lives? It sort of does, I think. If you read something by a living writer, you could, at least in theory, dash off a letter, establish a relationship maybe. I think a lot of readers feel this way. Some readers write to fictional characters as well, which is a little spookier.

But clearly I am not dead yet, although this could change at any moment, one reason why I'm writing this down. It's a fact of writing that the writer never knows the fate of the text he's grinding out, paper being good for so many uses other than displaying words in ordered array, nor are the tiny electromagnetic charges I am creating on this laptop machine immune to the insults of time. Bracegirdle is definitely dead, having succumbed to wounds received at the battle of Edgehill in the English Civil War, sometime in late October of 1642. We think. But dead nevertheless, although before dying he composed the fifty-two-page manuscript that has more or less screwed up my life, or killed me, I don't know which yet. Or maybe the little professor was more to blame, Andrew Bulstrode, because he dropped the thing in my lap and then got himself murdered, or I could blame Mickey Haas, my old college roomie, who turned Bulstrode on to me. Mickey's still alive as far as I know, or the girl, the woman I should say, she has to carry some freight for this, because I seriously doubt Iwould have plunged as I did if I had not spied her long white neck rising from her collar there in the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room of the New York Public Library, and wanted to kiss it so much it made my jaw hurt.

And Albert Crosetti and his unusual mom and his even more remarkable girlfriend, Carolyn, if girlfriend she is, all discoverers, and explicators, and decipherers, of Bracegirdle, my nemesis, without whom . . .

I don't forget the actual villains, but I can't really blame them. Villains are just there, like rust, dull and almost chemical in the stupid simplicity of their greed or pride. Remarkable how easy it is to avoid these, how often we fail to do so. Not to mention Mary, Queen of Scots (speaking of stupid), one more conspiracy added to her score, even if all she did in this case was to exist. Naturally, I blame my dad, the old crook. And why not? I blame him for everything else.

I see I am not doing this right. Okay, regain focus, at least array the facts, and begin by identifying the writer, me, Jake Mishkin, by profession an intellectual property lawyer. I believe that some gangsters may in the near future attempt to kill me. Although there is a kind of lawyer who can reasonably expect a certain level of physical danger as part of the employment picture, I am not that kind of lawyer—by design, actually. In my youth, I was familiar enough with such lawyers; a few of them, I have reason to believe, actually did get whacked, and so when I chose my field of law I made sure it was one in which the ordinary participants did not routinely pack heat. IP law has its share of violent lunatics (perhaps more than its share), but when they scream obscenities and threaten to kill you and your client, they are, almost all the time, speaking figuratively.

Even then, much of this venom is directed at litigators, and I am not a litigator. I don't have the personality for it, being a large peaceful person who believes that nearly all lawsuits, especially those involving intellectual property, are stupid, often grotesquely so, and that the underlying issues in virtually all of them could be solved by reasonable people in twenty minutes of conversation. This is not the mind-set of a successful litigator. Ed Geller, our senior partner, is a litigator: he is a pugnacious, aggressive, flamboyant, obnoxious little man, a being who might have served as the template for any nasty lawyer joke, yet to my certain knowledge, Ed (an individual for whom I have, by the way, the utmost professional respect) has never heard the snap of a bullet fired at him with bad intent, or tussled with thugs bent on robbery, both of which are now part of my life experience.

I should say that IP law is divided broadly into industrial, which covers trademarks and patents, and probably software fits in this class too, and copyright, which covers all the arts of humanity—music, writing, films, images of all kinds, Mickey Mouse, etc., and I will record here the instinctive punch of the special key on my machine that adds the sacred © to the little rodent's name, and which I have just gone back and removed, because this is a new me writing this whatever it is. My firm, Geller Linz Grossbart & Mishkin, is a copyright house, and although each of the partners handles the full spectrum of copyright work, you could make a case that each of us has a different specialty. Marty Linz does TV and movies, Shelly Grossbart does music, Ed Geller is, as I said, our litigation chief. And I handle the literary business, which means I spend a good deal of time with writers, enough to realize that I am not and will never be one of their number. Quite a few of my clients have told me, often with a patronizing tone, that within every lawyer is a strangled poet, attributing the quotation to a variety of different authors. I don't really mind this sort of thing, since . . . Book of Air and Shadows, The LP. Copyright © by Michael Gruber. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Stylish and confident prose…. Dialogue that respects a reader's intelligence. A smart and original plot…. And…a sense of humor." —-The Seattle Times

Meet the Author

Michael Gruber has been a marine biologist, a restaurant cook, a federal government official, and a political speechwriter.

Actor Stephen Hoye is a graduate of London's Guildhall and a veteran of London's West End. An award-winning audiobook narrator, he has won thirteen AudioFile Earphones Awards and two prestigious APA Audie Awards.

Brief Biography

Seattle, Washington
Date of Birth:
October 1, 1940
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
B.A., Columbia University, 1961; Ph.D., University of Miami, 1973

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The Book of Air and Shadows 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 73 reviews.
Kevin Lenaghan More than 1 year ago
Great premise but extremely shallow protagonist and ultimately a MOST BORING read. Gave up about halfway through. Don't bother.
book-a-holick More than 1 year ago
The characters were unlikable. The writing style was a jumble and confusing. There was nothing whatsoever redeeming about this book. I read over half of the 466 pages since I paid for the book, and I was irritated, not entertained. I finally decided to throw the book away, but then I thought I'd read the last couple of dozen pages, and I'm glad I did not bother slogging through the whole book. The author had a great plot idea, but it was executed very poorly. I will certainly never read anything else by this author.
DC_Love_the_Book More than 1 year ago
Ok - so I haven't finished this book - I am plowing through it and it is rough tilling. I have a rule - once you start a book, finish it but I keep waiting for the book to get started. It seems weighed down in a bit of over explaination I am typically a "start and read to the finish" type person - have picked up and finished 4 other books at this point. I don't go back to this book out of interest - just trying to get my money out of it and the hopes it will start to "run along."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a summer book read for me and it fulfilled all of my expectations. It provides a thrilling plot stretched over three narrators. Good characters, I learned something, and was happy to be along for the ride. I've since bought and finished another by this author about art and time travel and found it just as satisfying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Michael Gruber is one of my favorite authors, unfortunatly this is his only book ~I've read them all,Karp novels included~ I didn't enjoy. I've loved every one of the rest of his books, can't put my finger on why I didn't enjoy this one. I found the long letters teadious & maybe the topic wasn't of much interest to me. Michael Gruber is still an author of outstanding talent & depth.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I finished this novel...I went back to the book store and bought all of Michael Grubers novels...RADAR...07-13-2013...
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I read a different book by this author (The Forgery of Venus) and it was unexpected but quite fun to read. This one is a bit confusing so far (a lot of different names to keep track of), but I think it should also be fun & interesting.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Never made it through chapter one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not usually one to give up on a book, but I had to let thus one go. There were long excerpts from letters, which I'm sure were ultimately importsnt to the plot, that really did not hold my attention. The redt of the plot was a bit slow for my persinal taste as well. The characters wwre interedtung and well developed.
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I had great hopes for this book. The premise was interesting. Who would not relish another gift from the Bard! The author is very intelligent and speaks with clarity on many subjects and his wit is superb. However, the character development, especially that of Jake was based on his sexual prowess and everything else in his character was shadowed by his sexual escapades that always took precedence. I felt he was so shallow and one dimensional when given all the experiences, I would have expected more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story resembles the Dan Brown books but this one is much more literary. I'm wanting to read his other books.