The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession. Charlie Lovett. Viking Adult: Penguin Group (USA). May 2013. 368 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780670026470.
Peter Byerly is an impassioned bookseller and collector in 1995 who is living in the northern countryside of England while he mourns the death of his beloved wife, Amanda. They were perfect together, complementing the love each had for old books about literature and art. In fact they found each other and their career enchanting. Now, Peter is under the advice of his physician to do certain things to recover from his grief; he has a list he must accomplish. This includes staying in touch with old friends, making new friends, and more. But Peter was never one for all of these items in the first place, even though he has many, many acquaintances and the care of his wife’s family still. So one day he forces himself to wander into town, the famous Hay-on-Wye, known as a book collector and book lover’s delight and that is the day his lately sedate, mundane life begins spinning into a mysterious whirlwind!
There he opens a book about whether Shakespeare’s plays were written by the master or by someone else and out falls a paper that is a perfect portrait of his Amanda. How could this be, a watercolor that is such a perfect image of her? This is the day Peter’s obsession begins and he must find out who this woman was and who painted this watercolor that has so deeply shocked Peter.
The novel then moves in three time periods, the first that of Shakespeare and his colleagues whom others insist might have been the true authors of the plays we read as authored by William Shakespeare. A play called Pandosta written by Robert Greene is passed from person to person to person over hundreds of years, a wealthy artifact that just might be the answer to a riddle that has tormented many literary scholars.
It also turns out that the appearance and disappearance of this book has caused grief, rivalry, hatred, and murder between two rival families in Peter’s time. So the plot moves back and forth through the 1600s and 1900s until the mystery is traced with twists and turns that are totally unpredictable and fascinating. One also gets a fine, albeit surface, education about book binding and selling antiquarian books. Whether you are a fellow bibliophile, antiquarian, romantic, mystery or historical fiction fan, this is a notable book to relish page by intricate, complex and enigmatic page. Very literate historical fiction and highly recommended!