Review Blog

Jun 28 2013

The bookman's tale by Charlie Lovett

cover image

Text, 2013. ISBN 9781922079336.
(Senior secondary readers) The bookman's tale by Charlie Lovett is a thriller about bibliophiles, bibliopegy and greed. Books are bound, hidden and discovered, along with the occasional body, in this story that ranges from Shakespearean England to the 1990's. While Shakespeare's canon is hallowed ground, the recognition of Shakespeare as author is under threat from the anti-Stratfordians, those who believe that Shakespeare could not have written the works attributed to him. The main character, Peter Byerley, is an antiquarian bookseller and book binder. He has the good fortune to meet the beautiful Amanda, who not only falls in love with Peter but is also very wealthy, thus allowing him to pursue his chosen occupation. After the death of Amanda, Peter moves to England and becomes involved with a book collector who may have a Folio edition of Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Instead Peter finds a pamphlet written by Robert Greene, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and seemingly annotated with Shakespeare's marginalia. This would prove beyond doubt that Shakespeare was the author of the plays, but is the document a forgery? The owner of the pamphlet needs money and Peter feels that he cannot be trusted. The author weaves a tangled and complicated web of inter-family rivalry that stretches back to the nineteenth century. In his investigation the mild-mannered Peter becomes implicated in a murder, is trapped in a medieval chapel, finds an underground tunnel, overcomes claustrophobia and outwits a gun-toting murderer. Peter is convinced that the document he has is a forgery, but he also believes that he knows where the original is. In a retrospective deus ex machina, Peter himself is the rightful owner of it.
There is a wealth of information here about books and book restoration, about Shakespeare and his contemporaries and about Shakespearean scholarship. This is the novel's strength. The plot seems unbelievably Machiavellian and is quite complicated. Peter is an unlikely hero but a convincing book lover. The novel is suitable for older readers.
Jenny Hamilton

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