Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Bookman's Tale

Reading novels about books, bookstores, and book collectors is something that I have a long history of enjoying, particularly those novels that immerse the reader into the world of antiquarian book collecting.  So Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale seemed like a perfect choice for me.  But because I also have a history of not enjoying conspiracy theory novels, especially those that depend heavily upon coincidence to make the plot work, this one did not work out as well for me as I had hoped it would.

Peter Byerly is a recluse by nature.  Because he has preferred his own company since he was a child and has always felt awkward in one-on-one conversations, Peter is both shocked and thrilled to finally meet his soul mate.  Amanda is the perfect woman for Peter, someone who brings out the best in him and completes him in a way he never dared dream possible.  And then she is gone.

Still stunned by his loss, Peter moves back to England to ease his way back into the rare book business he has been so badly neglecting.  There, Peter is contacted by a man hoping to sell some of the books that have been in his family for generations.  While assessing the value and collectability of the man’s books, Peter makes what could be the discovery of a bookman’s lifetime.  He may, in fact, have just stumbled upon the “Holy Grail” of the book-collecting world: indisputable proof that William Shakespeare was truly the author of all the works attributed to him.  Some scholars still argue that a man of Shakespeare’s education and background would not have been capable of such complicated and distinguished writing.  Peter knows that by ending the “did he or didn’t he” debate once and for all he can link his name to Shakespeare’s forever.  His discovery could be that big.

Charlie Lovett
But first he needs to prove that his documentation is authentic and not the work of one of history’s master forgers, an investigation that seems to get the attention of someone willing to kill in order to make Peter go away for good.  Peter Byerly has inadvertently involved himself in a multi-generational two-family feud he could never have imagined when he stumbled upon what appears to be a Victorian era watercolor portrait of Amanda inside a nineteenth-century book.  Now, getting to the truth might be the only way he can save his own life.

Bottom Line:  The Bookman’s Tale is fun for a lot of reasons.  It offers in-depth insight into the closed world of rare book dealers, the techniques and history of document and signature forging, and the whole Shakespearean authorship debate.  But, while the premise of the book and its main characters are intriguing, the book’s plot relies too much on coincidence to make it plausible.  I was unable to suspend my level of disbelief to the degree required of a reader to buy into the book’s ending - and that disappoints me.

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