Summary and book reviews of The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

The Bookman's Tale

A Novel of Obsession

by Charlie Lovett

The Bookman's Tale
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  • First Published:
    May 2013, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2014, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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About this Book

Book Summary

"What about the most valuable relic in the history of English literature—would that be worth killing for?"

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.

Ridgefield, North Carolina, 1983

When it opened in 1957, the Robert Ridgefield Library had been the tallest building in Ridgefield - a nine-story neoclassical behemoth of granite and glass, columns and cornices, with an incongruous cupola perched uncomfortably on top.

The Ridgefields had come to North Carolina from Scotland just after the revolution and had spent the next two centuries going from success to success. A moderately wealthy nineteenth-century merchant family, they had become impressively wealthy in tobacco, then excessively wealthy in textiles, and now obscenely wealthy in banking. Along the way, they had turned a backwater two-year Bible college into the nationally recognized Ridgefield University.

The library had been built atop Ridgefield's highest point - a hill on the edge of campus previously favored by students for late-night trysts. From the upper floors one could view the countryside around Ridgefield for miles- a patchwork of corn and tobacco, clouds of...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you believe that Shakespeare was the true author of his plays?

  2. It's ironic that Robert Greene's most immortal words are those deriding Shakespeare as "an upstart Crow" (p. 31). Can you think of any other writers who were belittled by their contemporaries but went on to achieve greater and more enduring fame?

  3. Consider Dr. Strayer's "typed list of things [Peter] needed to do in order to move on with his life" (p. 7) after Amanda's death. Can following such a list help someone recover from grief?

  4. Peter's first visit to the Conservation Department at Ridgefield University transforms the way he regards books, "He had thought of books before only as his shield, but now they seemed to be taking on lives of their own, not so much as ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale is a literary mystery spiced with intrigue and conspiracy. It is also a poignant story about one antiquarian bookseller’s recovery from the loss of his beloved wife. Lovett, himself a former antiquarian bookseller, weaves an engrossing tale that contemplates the influence of literature, the pain of death, and the power of redemption.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (857 words).

Media Reviews

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A Bookman’s Tale has plenty of richness to offer….Daring intricacy.

Star Tribune

The Bard is back in this rollicking literary mystery….This novel has something for everyone: William Shakespeare, a love story, murder and even a secret tunnel.

The Fayetteville Observer

All too good to resist….The Bookman’s Tale is a book about books, written for lovers of books.

Booklist

Fans of mysteries, of love stories, and of rare books will all find moments in Lovett's novel to treasure.

Kirkus Reviews

A pleasurably escapist trans-Atlantic mystery is intricately layered with plots, murders, feuds, romances, forgeries - and antiquarian book dealing... A cheerily old-fashioned entertainment.

Library Journal

Starred Review. A gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end. For fans of Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book, Shakespeare aficionados, and bibliophiles.

Author Blurb Danial Singer, founder, Reduced Shakespeare Company and co-author of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
I don't read much fiction. I'm picky. But I loved racing through Charlie Lovett's The Bookman's Tale, a richly rewarding thriller filled with real-world details about the discovery of a rare book that may or may not be a priceless Shakespearean artifact. Fun for everyone who's ever fondled a soft leather binding!

Author Blurb Robin Sloan, New York Times bestselling author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
With The Bookman's Tale, Charlie Lovett tells us a terrific story - there's mystery and suspense, murder and seduction - but more important, he shows us how it's all connected, all of this: the reading and the keeping and the sharing of books. It forms a chain long and strange enough to tie a heartbroken young scholar from North Carolina back to the Bard himself, who might or might not have been William Shakespeare. Every link along the way is a bookman's tale all its own, and Lovett tells them all, except the very last, of course: because that's you, about to read this book right now.

Author Blurb Jennifer Lee Carrell, author of Interred with Their Bones
Lovett's novel, The Bookman's Tale, is a marvelous new Shakespearean mystery: an intelligent thriller that is also a love song for books and the people who relish them. Lovett knows his stuff about Shakespeare, rare books, and the passions that both inspire, and he weaves from these a delicious tale of love, loss, and the thrill of discovery. It kept me turning pages till the wee hours for days. The only disappointment was that it came to an end.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Hay-on-Wye, The Town of Books

The Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye When Peter discovers the watercolor of the woman that resembles his dead wife, he is standing in a bookshop in the small town of Hay-on-Wye, Wales, in the United Kingdom. This town, known as the town of books, has a population of 1,500 but boasts nearly 30 bookstores. Hay-on-Wye is about three to four hours' driving distance from London.

Hay-on-Wye evolved into its current status beginning in the 1960s when a bookseller, Robert Booth, decided to start collecting used books from around the English speaking world and bringing them home. Since then the small Welsh-border town has become a mecca of sorts for book lovers. The stores specialize in second-hand books with some bookstores selling antiquarian books, some specializing in maps, ...

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