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an excellent literary mystery
“Anticipation brought a cold sweat to the back of his neck. Why had he come? He could be safe in his sitting room with a cup of tea right now instead of standing on a cold street corner with a sense of dread settling into the pit of his stomach……he slipped through an open doorway into the back room where books lined every wall. He closed his eyes for a moment, imagining the cocoon of books shielding him from all danger, inhaling deeply that familiar scent of cloth and leather and dust and words. His rushing pulse began to slow…”
The Bookman’s Tale is the third novel by American writer, teacher and playwright, Charlie Lovett. Antiquarian bookseller, Peter Byerly is still a broken man after the death of his wife, Amanda, in Ridgefield, North Carolina, some nine months earlier. He has escaped concerned family and friends to maintain a reclusive existence in a stone cottage in the village of Kingham, Oxfordshire, the cottage he and Amanda had just finished renovating together. On his first attempt to resume normal activities, he visits a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye and happens upon, tucked inside a book on forgeries, a miniature Victorian watercolour of a woman who looks uncannily like his late wife. It is signed “B.B.”
It is curiosity about this intriguing likeness together with a call from a member of the local gentry about some rare books for sale that has Peter interacting with the villagers and travelling to London for a meeting of the Historical Watercolour Society, thus following one of his therapist’s instructions for recovery. He is certainly not expecting to discover the “Holy Grail” of rare books, a document that will prove, once and for all, that Shakespeare was indeed the author of the works attributed to him. Nor is he expecting to encounter a murderer.
The story is told in three narrative strands that cover different time periods and places: one strand follows the creation of said document and its journey through time from Shakespeare’s day to the late nineteenth century; another describes Peter’s introduction to the two loves of his life, Amanda and the world of rare books; the third relates the rollercoaster ride of events that follow Peter’s discovery.
Lovett gives the reader an excellent literary mystery that incorporates a believable plot with a few twists, appealing characters, a beautiful romance, a good dose of humour, a secret tunnel, murder, theft, forgery, blackmail, adultery, suicide, seduction and, of course, rare books. His expertise with rare editions and their restoration and his enthusiasm for his subject are apparent in every paragraph. He imparts a wealth of knowledge and presents it in an easily digestible manner. Lovett skilfully blends fact with fiction and the “what if” scenario on which the plot hangs generates more than enough intrigue to make this a real page-turner with an exciting climax. Highly recommended.