The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession [NOOK Book]

Overview

A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search through time and the works of Shakespeare for his lost love

Guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who truly loves books, The Bookman’s Tale is a former bookseller’s sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature’s most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. ...
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The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession

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Overview

A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search through time and the works of Shakespeare for his lost love

Guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who truly loves books, The Bookman’s Tale is a former bookseller’s sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature’s most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession.

Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.

As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.



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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Peter Byerly cut himself off from the world to recover from the loss of his wife, Amanda, who died nine months ago. An American antiquarian bookseller now living in England, Peter returns to work and discovers, in an 18th-century book about Shakespeare forgeries, a Victorian miniature portrait of a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife. His research to identify the watercolor's origins uncovers what could be the holy grail of Shakespeare studies—a book annotated by the Bard at the time he was writing A Winter's Tale—and leads Peter on a dangerous quest to prove the book's authenticity. Interwoven throughout are flashbacks to Peter's early relationship with Amanda and chapters on the book's travels through many hands since 1592. VERDICT Drawing on debates about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays as well his own experience in the cutthroat world of antiquarian books, debut author Lovett has crafted a gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end. Recommended for fans of Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book, Shakespeare aficionados, and bibliophiles. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/12.]—Katie Lawrence, Chicago
Publishers Weekly
Lovett’s debut is a century-spanning web of literary mystery that ensnares American Peter Byerly, a rare bookseller. Living abroad in the months after the death of his wife Amanda, Peter is mystified to discover a watercolor uncannily resembling her—especially since it’s from the Victorian era. Vowing to learn more about the obscure artist—“B.B.”—Peter stumbles into the argument about the authorship of Shakespeare’s work, which might contain a link to the mysterious painter. “The mystery of the watercolor’s origins felt deeply personal and Peter could already feel curiosity and grief melding into obsession.” Lovett’s novel skips in time to various periods in Peter’s life, and even before it, extending as far back as 1592 when Shakespeare and his cohorts haunted taverns, and to 1879 when folios of his plays became prized possessions. As Peter continues his sleuthing, he finds himself a potential suspect in a murder investigation and a “hundred-and-thirty-year-old scandal” with “the most valuable relic in the history of English literature” at its core. Although the discussion of the provenance of Shakespeare’s plays will appeal to bibliophiles, the frequent flashbacks to bygone days interrupt the narrative flow. In addition, the characters’ dialogue, while full of passion for letters, is wooden and uninspired. Agent: David Gernert, the Gernert Agency. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
A pleasurably escapist trans-Atlantic mystery is intricately layered with plots, murders, feuds, romances, forgeries--and antiquarian book dealing. Lovett's engagingly traditional debut offers flavors of notable British antecedents--Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Noel Coward--while spinning tales in several different eras, all centered on the book that supposedly inspired Shakespeare's play A Winter's Tale. The novel's hero is insecure, grieving, widowed bookseller Peter Byerly, whose scholarship to Ridgefield University in North Carolina introduced him to his twin passions: his future wife, Amanda, and old books. Peter's wooing and winning of Amanda is one of the novel's three concurrent plot strands, the others (both set in the U.K.) being a here-and-now hunt and chase and a through-the-ages tracing of a volume of Pandosto, a play by Robert Greene which came to be annotated by Shakespeare and, if found and exposed in modern times, would answer an earth-shattering (to some) question of scholarship: Did Shakespeare really write his plays or not? Peter's discovery, in a bookshop, of a Victorian watercolor portrait seemingly of his dead wife sets this sizable ball rolling and leads through new female friendships, murder scenes and tombs to a pleasing-if-predictable country-house denouement. A cheerily old-fashioned entertainment.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101622803
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 5/28/2013
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 16,888
  • File size: 875 KB

Meet the Author

Charlie Lovett

Charlie Lovett is a writer, teacher, and playwright, whose plays for children have been seen in more than 3,000 productions. He is a former antiquarian bookseller and an avid book collector. He and his wife, Janice, split their time between Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Kingham, Oxfordshire, in England.
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Charlie Lovett, author of The Bookman's Tale
Interview by Tess Taylor

This is a book about an antiquarian bookseller who lives in North Carolina and Oxfordshire. You're a former antiquarian bookseller who lives in North Carolina and Oxfordshire. How much else do you have in common with your protagonist, Peter?

I understand Peter's world— both of rare books and the specific geographies of North Carolina and Oxfordshire—because of my own experience, but Peter isn't based on me, or anyone else. He is shy and reserved, and friends will tell you that I am anything but that. Still, I think there are deeper character traits that I share with Peter. First and foremost, of course, is his passion for making connections through books to others and to the past. While for Peter this is a primarily introverted passion, for me one of the great joys of book collecting has been the many friends I've met along the way. Just a few days ago I had the pleasure of watching a dear friend examining a rare book in my collection and of seeing his emotional reaction to that volume—so like the one Peter has to the first rare book he encounters. I also think that, at times in my life, I have shared Peter's tendency to deal (or not deal) with grief through denial. Peter and I are both working on this.

A lot of this book refers to specialized knowledge that only booksellers would have—for instance, a knowledge of forgers and forgeries, and also which editions of certain rare books would be considered valuable. How much of that knowledge came through your own trade, and how much new research did you do for the book?

I worked as an antiquarian bookseller for about a decade and have been a collector of rare books for nearly thirty years, so a lot of the information about books, book dealing, and book collecting came from this experience. The original draft of The Bookman's Tale had more of this knowledge woven in, but my agent felt (rightly so) that some of it was getting in the way of the story, so I trimmed some of those "book world" scenes. Because my own collecting focuses on a particular author (Lewis Carroll) and my own dealing was primarily in antiquarian children's books and modern first editions, I did have to do research about Shakespeare and forgeries to describe the specific books Peter encounters. But every printed book mentioned in The Bookman's Tale is real, though particular copies are fictional. I read at least part of each book while working on the novel.

When did you begin conceiving this novel? Was it something you'd been carrying around for a long time or did it happen quickly?

The genesis came in 2005. I was walking in the Yorkshire countryside on a chilly day. I had just finished devouring the latest Harry Potter book and I was thinking about what I might like to write next when I hit on the idea of a hiding a secret in an old family chapel. I may have been recalling a previous trip to the north of England during which some friends had taken me to see a tomb in such a chapel. Like my fictional Evenlode House, the house near the chapel I saw had fallen into disrepair—the residents lived in trailers in the garden. When I returned from my walk, I began to make notes and ended up with several pages of ideas about a Victorian English painter and a modern day American expatriate bookseller. With the exception of those characters and the falling down house and the hidden chapel, almost nothing of my original notes made it into the novel. In fact, it was two years before I started working on the book in earnest. During the time I was revising the early drafts of the novel, my wife and I bought and renovated a cottage in the Oxfordshire village of Kingham. With a few modifications, our cottage became Peter's cottage, and my familiarity with rare books and the English countryside helped me create Peter's world. It took about four months to write the first draft, and I worked through other drafts (and rejections by agents) before, in 2011, I found an agent who was as excited about the story as I was.

This book leaps across multiple time periods, cutting between many eras. Did you need to outline the flow of events? How did you structure the action? How do you keep so many balls in the air, so to speak?

In the first draft I just wrote without worrying too much about how all the different pieces would fit together. As my mind moved from one time to another, so did the sections I was writing. I began to explore the connections between the various time lines. I didn't outline the book until I was more than halfway done, and then the outline I wrote was both concise and fluid—it took up only 2 pages and I was constantly changing it. As I worked through subsequent drafts, I tried to tease out the connections between different time frames, so that, for instance, when Peter learns about a famous forger in the 1990s, we flash back to a story of forgery in the 1800s. The last major rewrite took place after my editor suggested that, especially in the beginning, it would help the reader to stay grounded if the story didn't shift time frames so often. Then I outlined the entire novel on about five pages and cut each page into strips—one strip for each scene. I covered the pool table in my office with these strips, which I rearranged as I reworked the structure of the book. In the final draft I tried to make sure there was always some connection (thematic, linguistic, or plot related) between each section and the next, regardless of any jump in time. Many connections are subtle, but I believe they help the book hang together.

Part of the book refers to finding a clue that might shed some light on Shakespeare's identity. What's the most exciting find you ever had as book dealer? Anything related to the Bard himself?

In my story, Peter discovers artifacts that are important and valuable to the wider world, and others that, regardless of any intrinsic worth, are deeply connected to him personally. In my years of book hunting I found some of each.

As a dealer I'd say my greatest find came when I was called to appraise some books for an estate. When I arrived, the house was little more than a shack in the woods, and I figured the trip was a waste of time. But inside the house were about 6000 volumes, including hundreds of first editions of modern literature, all in superb condition in their original dust jackets. The man who had owned this collection hadn't ever done business with a rare book dealer; he had simply bought these books when they were brand new and kept them in perfect condition. I ended up buying most of the books. At one point, I was on the verge of tossing a couple of paperbacks into the 25¢ box, when I decided to give them a closer look. They turned out to be the 2-volume first edition of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. I sold them with a single phone call to another dealer, and the next month saw them catalogued for $3000.

I also found a book that is worth nothing on the open market, but is much more valuable to me than that Lolita. I was trying to write a book about my mother, who died when I was two years old, and hoping to find ways to connect to her over all the years that had passed since her death. At the time, my father and step-mother were moving and the house I had grown up in was for sale. I thought it would be interesting to walk through the empty house, to see it the same way my mother had first seen it. My father's study was in the basement and its shelves were empty. On a whim, I ran my hand across the top of the cases. I discovered a book. When I realized what it was, it nearly took my breath away. The book was a battered French textbook my mother had used in high school. She had written her name and the name of her then boyfriend on many pages along with other doodles. But most remarkable was the fact that she had blotted her lipstick on the endpapers. There, thirty-five years after her death, was the red imprint of my mother's lips. It was a stunning moment. I still have that book. It is very special to me.

At Barnes & Noble we love to ask novelists what new books they are discovering and reading. Any recent finds that have moved and enchanted you?

I love books about the world of literature like Michael Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows and Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. I've just started Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and loving it. Because of my interest in Lewis Carroll I read Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been and thought it was beautiful. Melanie's new book The Aviator's Wife is a great read. I also love books about England, English culture, and the English countryside. I thought Natasha Solomons' Mr Rosemblum's List was great fun—almost P.G. Wodehouse in its wit in places, and yet also deeply moving. I'm a fan of Nick Hornby and David Lodge. And Bill Bryson's brilliant At Home is a book I can dip into again and again.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 105 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 23, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Love Between The Sheaves

    There is plenty of intrigue, mystery, and a touch of adventure here. Make no mistake this is a love story. More precisely this is a love story bound in the pages of a mystery book. A young college student, Peter Byerly, discovers his life's work in collecting, restoring, and selling old books. Peter finds his true passion, his raison d'etre, seated among the books in the college library where he works. Amanda is the girl who completes his soul. The stories of Peter's love for Amanda and his love of books are intertwined around a search for any bibliophile's Holy Grail, a concrete connection between Shakespeare the man and Shakespeare's printed words. This is a novel any book lover can identify with and totally immerse themselves in. Book provided for review by the well read folks at Viking.

    19 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    The Bookman's Tale is a great love story filled with plenty of m

    The Bookman's Tale is a great love story filled with plenty of mystery and adventure. The ability of the author to juggle three time periods with such ease is impressive.

    13 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This is an amazing story. I loved the characters. I loved the fl

    This is an amazing story. I loved the characters. I loved the flashbacks and control of time. A truly great read. Great for book clubs.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 30, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Peter Byerly is an impassioned bookseller and collector in 1995

    Peter Byerly is an impassioned bookseller and collector in 1995 who is living in the northern countryside of England while he mourns the death of his beloved wife, Amanda.  They were perfect together, complementing the love each had for old books about literature and art.  In fact they found each other and their career enchanting.  Now, Peter is under the advice of his physician to do certain things to recover from his grief; he has a list he must accomplish. This includes staying in touch with old friends, making new friends, and more.  But Peter was never one for all of these items in the first place, even though he has many, many acquaintances and the care of his wife’s family still.  So one day he forces himself to wander into town, the famous Hay-on-Wye, known as a book collector and book lover’s delight and that is the day his lately sedate, mundane life begins spinning into a mysterious whirlwind!
    There he opens a book about whether Shakespeare’s plays were written by the master or by someone else and out falls a paper that is a perfect portrait of his Amanda.  How could this be, a watercolor that is such a perfect image of her?  This is the day Peter’s obsession begins and he must find out who this woman was and who painted this watercolor that has so deeply shocked Peter.
    The novel then moves in three time periods, the first that of Shakespeare and his colleagues whom others insist might have been the true authors of the plays we read as authored by William Shakespeare.  A play called Pandosta written by Robert Greene is passed from person to person to person over hundreds of years, a wealthy artifact that just might be the answer to a riddle that has tormented many literary scholars.
    It also turns out that the appearance and disappearance of this book has caused grief, rivalry, hatred, and murder between two rival families in Peter’s time.  So the plot moves back and forth through the 1600s and 1900s until the mystery is traced with twists and turns that are totally unpredictable and fascinating.  One also gets a fine, albeit surface, education about book binding and selling antiquarian books.  Whether you are a fellow bibliophile, antiquarian, romantic, mystery or historical fiction fan, this is a notable book to relish page by intricate, complex and enigmatic page.  Very literate historical fiction and highly recommended!

    9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 2, 2013

    A novel for every Anglophile and English major. Si

    A novel for every Anglophile and English major. Since I am both a hopeless Anglophile, a former English major and college English professor, picking up this novel was a no-brainer. But in all seriousness, you probably don't have to be any of those to still be grabbed by Lovett's tale of a grief-wracked, pathologically introverted bookseller caught up in multiple mysteries: why is does there seem to be a painting of his deceased, 20th century, wife in an 18th century book and painted by a Victorian artist? Why and how is his search for the truth about that painting leading him in the centuries-old mystery of 'who was William Shakespeare?' Why do other people seem desperate to find out this information as well, and with his stifling inability to socially interact in the world without his beloved wife, can he untangle these chaotic threads? This novel moves back and forth in time; it moves between narrators and points of view; at times it can be a challenge to keep characters, centuries and who-owned-the manuscript-in question-when, straight. But the story is worth the ride and the challenge. For those readers already familiar with the scholarly battles over Shakespeare's identity, the sources of some of his work, his contemporaries like Marlowe...this will be an especially fun read. Lovett has really written a love letter to books, reading, the study of language, the value of classic literature. It is also a look at one man's attempt to overcome almost crippling social-anxiety disorder; Peter is a character that quite honestly, I found hard to like at times because his inability to fully function without his wife literally leading him by the hand down one coming-of-age path after another (finding love, losing virginity, interacting with her publically, dealing with family issues) became almost too much at times. More than once I found myself rolling my eyes or just saying 'Oh come on!' at his issues; I also found the treatment of Peter's parents/family life hard to digest. It is given very generalized, one-dimensional, treatment (his parents=totally unworthy=bad=son cannot love them=the end) that simply does not ring true. But all that being said, the other complexities of this novel are totally engrossing and will probably encourage another reading simply to make sure you have all the facts and characters straight--and simply to enjoy. This is quite reminiscent of the superb 'People of the Book' as well, so if you know that novel, pick up this one.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2013

    While I liked the book overall, it was curious that the American

    While I liked the book overall, it was curious that the American, Peter, spoke British tinged english at times. *** SPOILER ALERT *** Also, it doesn't make sense that he is Philip Garner's heir when it was his wife Amanda who is descended from the Deveraux family. Did anyone else notice this?   

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 4, 2013

    First of all, for the record, I was an English major and I've ta

    First of all, for the record, I was an English major and I've taught Spanish and English literature.  And I'm an avid reader.  HOWEVER, this book lover didn't identify with or totally immerse herself into this often boring and sometimes downright strange novel.  And yes, as another reader mentioned, I found the ending to be totally incomprehensible--concerning who was who's heir!  The pre-publication hype was very misleading for me--I wish I had saved my money for a really good read.  The characters from Shakespeare's time were not really likable, and the modern characters were just "strange."  

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2013

    I'm not half way yet but I was in love within the first chapter.

    I'm not half way yet but I was in love within the first chapter. I took a break to see what else this author has written and convince myself to sleep as I need to get up on few hours for work. So much love for books you feel like your meeting someone that would be an instant friend only the way a fellow book lover can be.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2013

    not bad, but not great

    Far too many coincidences...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2013

    Best I've read in a long time

    Really very well written book...unusual plot a great character well executed...better than the average novel

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2013

    Highly recommended!

    Totally loved it recommend it for anyone who loves books, history, and mysteries.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2013

    An excellent novel. The theme and premise of this book were ver

    An excellent novel. The theme and premise of this book were very well executed, even though we knew it to be fiction. The characters, both present day and times long gone were cleverly brought to life as if it were yesterday. A beautiful love story to boot, again both present day and centuries ago. This book had a little bit of everything: Sex, greed, mystery, murder, love and intrigue. What more could one expect from one book? Bravo to the author Charlie Lovett!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    Highly recommended

    Loved this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 28, 2013

    Interesting topic

    An interesting approach to an arcane world. The mystery and suspense are less pleasing than the attention paid to a Bookman's world. All in all a worthwhile read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    Enjoyed the history

    The Bookman's Tale has just enough historical fact mixed with an interesting story line. I liked the parallel scenarios.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    Exellent Read!

    Great book, especially for people who love Shakespeare or are interested in the early business of book binding.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2013

    Dear reader, you may read all of the opinionated reviews with th

    Dear reader, you may read all of the opinionated reviews with their synopsis of the story but might I suggest that you form your own opinion.  This was a fun and intriguing read.  The back and forth between time periods was interesting.  Overall, I would highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2013

    This book has a very interesting concept. I enjoyed reading it,

    This book has a very interesting concept. I enjoyed reading it, but did find it a little simplistic. Since the writer chose to travel between three different time periods, a Da Vinci Code-like detail would have made it way too long and probably almost impossible to follow. Don't expect an earth shattering read, but it is interesting especially for anyone who loves books and history.
    SPOILER ALERT -- As to the question of why Peter is Gardner's heir -- Amanda would have been Gardner's youngest heir. Although the author did not make this completely clear, Peter was Amanda's heir, therefore, Peter would have inherited whatever would have gone to Amanda.   

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2013

    Passion for books; story not so much

    Lovett's main character, a collector, dealer, and restorer of old books, is irresistible to book lovers for his passion for the printed word, both in content and object.

    The story itself, however, while starting strong, devolves into predictability, culminating in an ending that--well, let's assume it's homage, and not just a rehash of every old mystery tale ever, complete with the killer sitting explaining his crime to the hero when he's about to kill him. (Spoiler: The hero uses this time to figure a way out and survive. Saw that coming, did you?)

    Read it for the loving descriptions of books and libraries. Just don't expect the tale itself to transport you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2014

    Languishing after his wife¿s untimely death, antiquarian booksel

    Languishing after his wife’s untimely death, antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly stumbles across a Victorian watercolor of a woman that looks uncannily like his beloved Amanda. When he tries to discover information about the artist and subject, he happens upon a “Holy Grail” in the debate over whether or not Shakespeare really wrote the work credited to him. Is this document what it seems to be, or is it an incredible forgery? Whichever the case, someone is willing to kill for it. Will Peter be the next victim?

    As a library geek myself, I found myself liking Peter and Amanda (although their clandestine use of the Special Collections Room really makes me want to break out the hand sanitizer). The author jumps back and forth in time between the document’s past, Peter and Amanda’s past, and Peter’s present. Of course, they are all inextricably linked. I anticipated that part. I was pleasantly clueless about who the murderer was right up until the end, which is unusual for me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 105 Customer Reviews

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