The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Like Finding Camlann, we’re after a Holy Grail of sorts – in this case, proof that “the glovemaker” of Stratford was, in fact, the Bard (as opposed to De Vere or Oxford or even Kit Marlowe). Too many suspension-of-belief coincidences play a role here, sadly, but the historical elements are interesting.
Our detective, Peter Byerly, is socially awkward and from a poor background; his sophomore year in college he becomes entranced with a first year student, Amanda, and embarks on a career in book preservation (he gets a book rebound for her as a gift, before even officially meeting her) that ultimately leads to their marriage. Their relationship is short lived, and she dies after six years from a brain tumor. He’s now floundering and goes to their cottage in England (she’s from an incredibly wealthy family, by the way) to restart his life, which he does after finding a watercolor of a woman who looks like Amanda in a used book in a bookshop in Hay-on-Were. Annnnnd we’re off: who painted this watercolor? Why is it in a book about forgeries? All this leads to searching for a version of Robert Green’s Pandosto (which may have influenced Shakespeare). In order to prevent him, and his possible new friend Liz, from learning the answers, there are murders and attempted murders committed by someone involved with both the painting and forgery.
It’s those murders, and Peter and Liz’s investigation and escape, that really strain credulity. It seems as though the author needed some sort of thriller aspect, got in a little too deep and quickly invented a way out. I’ve never been a fan of the killer explaining how and why and when while waiting to kill the detective/victim. Much better was the history of Pandosto, traced from Green’s death in Shakespearean England through modern day.
ARC provided by publisher.