Summary and book reviews of The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber

The Book of Air and Shadows

A Novel

by Michael Gruber

The Book of Air and Shadows
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 496 pages

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Book Summary

An intellectual property lawyer is at the center of a deadly conspiracy and a chase to find a priceless treasure involving William Shakespeare. As he awaits a killer—or killers—unknown, Jake writes an account of the events that led to this deadly endgame, a frantic chase that began with a fire in an antiquarian bookstore.

A distinguished Shakespearean scholar found tortured to death . . .

A lost manuscript and its secrets buried for centuries . . .

An encrypted map that leads to incalculable wealth . . .

The Washington Post called Michael Gruber's previous work "a miracle of intelligent fiction and among the essential novels of recent years." Now comes his most intellectually provocative and compulsively readable novel yet.

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 gets to read them, as dead as, say, Tolstoy. Or Shakespeare. Does it matter, when you read, if the person who wrote still lives?

These are the words of Jake Mishkin, whose seemingly innocent job as an intellectual property lawyer has put him at the center of a deadly conspiracy and a chase to find a priceless treasure involving William Shakespeare. As he awaits a killer—or killers—unknown, Jake writes an account of the events that led to this deadly endgame, a frantic chase that began when a fire in an antiquarian bookstore revealed the hiding place of letters containing a shocking secret, concealed for four hundred years. In a frantic race from New York to England and Switzerland, Jake finds himself matching wits with a shadowy figure who seems to anticipate his every move. What at first seems like a thrilling puzzle waiting to be deciphered soon turns into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, where no one—not family, not friends, not lovers—is to be trusted.

Moving between twenty-first-century America and seventeenth-century England, The Book of Air and Shadows is a modern thriller that brilliantly re-creates William Shakespeare's life at the turn of the seventeenth century and combines an ingenious and intricately layered plot with a devastating portrait of a contemporary man on the brink of self-discovery . . . or self-destruction.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Book

Jake Mishkin is an intellectual property lawyer with a fabulously wealthy ex-wife, a brother who's a convict turned Jesuit priest, and a weakness for beautiful women. Albert Crosetti is an aspiring film-maker with a weakness for one woman in particular. Together, as they both search for a lost treasure, they form one of the more unlikely teams in recent memory. But The Book of Air and Shadows is so much more than a riveting novel of suspense. Michael Gruber has been called "masterful" (Cleveland Plain Dealer), "Superior" (Seattle Times) and The Washington Post says that Michael's books are "miracles of intelligent fiction . . . among the essential novels of recent years." In...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A literary thriller (quite literally) which is smart enough to get the mental cogs whirring, with a depth of characterization rare in a thriller, but with an action quotient more than high enough to keep one up late into the night.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (907 words).

Media Reviews

Washington Post - Ron Charles

Sadly, the women in this novel don't come off much better than they do in the average James Bond movie, but Jake is a truly engaging narrator, who's forced by this crisis to face up to a lifetime of moral weakness.

The Denver Post - Robin Vidimos

The Book of Air and Shadows, an intricately crafted and literate work, should give the [thriller] genre a good shake. What Michael Gruber has omitted in car chases and shootouts (and rest easy, those elements aren't completely erased), he's more than made up for with a rich cast of characters who are difficult to leave when the final pages are turned.

USA Today - Carol Memmott

Scholars fantasize endlessly about finding undiscovered works of literary giants. It's a perfect "what if" premise for a thriller, and author Michael Gruber does a bang-up job incorporating it into his breathlessly engaging novel, The Book of Air and Shadows.

The Boston Globe - Clea Simon

If The Book of Air and Shadows, a contemporary Elizabethan reference to the missing play, sounds overly refined, think again. Gruber's themes may be lofty, but his people -- notably his narrators Jake Mishkin, Albert Crosetti, and Richard Bracegirdle -- are fully fleshed and often funny, with arch senses of humor and irony.

Library Journal

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. he 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.

Kirkus Reviews

A wonderful story with absolutely superb casting.

Booklist - Kier Graff

Starred Review. Though he ambitiously uses three different time lines and three points of view, Gruber deftly raises the thriller stakes and accelerates the plot while still creating convincing personal journeys for his characters. Even better, he finds time to thoughtfully explore related concepts, such as the ways movies inform our behavior and the nature of industries built to profit on creativity. All that and a tantalizing imagining of Shakespeare's personality, too.

Reader Reviews

JaneN

Keeps You Guessing
This book manages to take itself seriously while the author is making fun of the very stuff he is writing about. I loved it !The story is full of double crosses, and red herrings, both in the present and in the past. Characters from the past are ...   Read More

mike

Just finished?
I just finished and had to surf for a synopsis since I don't think I understand the end. Was it real or not? Part of me wants to use a short line by Crosetti (describing the movie life) - "keep 'em guessing at the end" or something like ...   Read More

Julia Murphy

Loved it til I got to the end
I really enjoyed the idea of the lost Shakespeare play and the clever way in which it was discovered. I tend to be a fan of literary mysteries, but they are often a little ridiculous (The DaVinci Code) and/or written to an elementary audience (again...   Read More

MsSueK

Book of Air and Shadow
This book didn't necessarily "grab" my attention when I started it. The first half of the book goes into too much detail of the lawyer's extensive sex life which really doesn't have that much direct bearing on the story line. At any rate, about ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

No portraits of Shakespeare were commissioned during his lifetime, but some appeared later, such as the copper engraving that graces the title page of the First Folio published in 1623; www.william-shakespeare.info/ offers plentiful information on all things Shakespeare including a collection of portraits that may or may not represent what he actually looked like.


Michael Gruber, born and raised in New York City, was educated in its public schools and has a Ph.D. in marine science. From 1977 he worked in the Carter ...

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