The narrative jumps between Peter’s investigation and his touching romance with Amanda in the 1980s, which unfolds in a North Carolina university library. In intervening segments, the plot also dramatizes the lives of the successive owners of a long-lost text, Robert Greene’s Pandosto, which inspired one of Shakespeare’s last plays. The boisterousness of London’s Southwark is shown to good effect in the story of Bartholomew Harbottle, a bookseller who counts many Elizabethan dramatists as his drinking buddies. Not all of the subsequent historical scenes are as interesting; although it’s critical to the puzzle, the final tale of Victorian rivalries feels slightly superficial in comparison. However, anyone who loves literature should like seeing how a book’s provenance comes to life.
Tomb-robbing, blackmail, family secrets, and murder all play a part in this complex work, and with the help of some fortunate coincidences, the pieces all lock together. Lovett, a former antiquarian book dealer, obviously knows his stuff, and his readers will get a fun education in the rare book trade. With its comfortable style, The Bookman’s Tale is more charming than suspenseful, but just as one would hope for with a novel about books, it’s a pleasure to read.
The Bookman's Tale will appear on May 28th from Viking ($27.95/C$29.50, hb, 352pp). Alma Books publishes it in the UK in July (£7.99). This was one I chose to cover for May's Historical Novels Review. It was just picked as the latest title in the Barnes & Noble Recommends program, so expect to see a lot of it at your local B&N.