The Bookman's Tale
Charlie Lovett
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Buy *The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession* by Charlie Lovettonline

The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession
Charlie Lovett
368 pages
May 2013
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In four time periods that alternate the chapters in this story (the 1660s, the 1800s, 1983 and 1995), The Bookman's Tale is an example of an accomplished writing style triumphing over an often melodramatic and complex plot. The expressive prose and many lively descriptive passages show that Lovett is a strong, vibrant writer who calls upon all the romance of the gothic style to weave an elaborate and dazzling tapestry for the reader.

The hero of Lovett’s ode to antiquarian book enthusiasts is lonely, bookish Peter Byerly, who is spurred to find the creator of a watercolor painting of Amanda Devereaux, one of the founders of the prestigious Ridgefield Library in North Carolina. Dark-haired, pale-skinned Amanda bears an uncanny resemblance to Peter’s wife, who was also called Amanda. Peter has never revealed the details of Amanda’s privileged upbringing, nor the reason why she is no longer such a powerful presence in his life.

Unable to imagine how a hundred-year-old portrait of Amanda has come to be tucked into an eighteenth-century book on Shakespearean forgeries, Peter descends into a deeply personal mystery and an investigation that unfolds in the Special Collections Library at Ridgefield. With us, Peter is catapulted back into the past--to Southwark, London in 1592 and to the lively world of Bartholomew Harbottle, along with his “lofty circle of literary friends": Robert Cotton, Thomas Nashe and Kit Marlowe.

With a tendency to lose himself in the past, Peter is called upon to solve yet another bibliographical puzzle, and he does so with the same emotional detachment with which he solves his beloved crosswords. When he discovers that a copy of Pandosto (the inspiration for Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale) was passed down directly from Harbottle, for the first time Peter realizes that he can fulfill his dream and change the course of literary history. Struggling to find the words to describe the experiences of holding the book and turning its pages, Peter must now prove that the Pandosto copy is genuine and not just a clever forgery.

The assignment becomes a journey of personal growth for Peter. Plagued with anxiety attacks and haunted by the ghost of Amanda, Peter lives mostly in his imagination through the antiquarian books he so voraciously devours. When the trail takes him to Cornwall and Evenlode House, a rundown Jacobean manor, Peter finds himself a prime suspect in murder. Certain parties are attempting to cover up something about the authenticity of the Pandosto. Only Liz Sutcliffe, a fellow conspirator, can help Peter unravel the mystery of the watercolor Victorian painting and the mysterious signature--"BB"--and a signed confession from the owner of Evenlode House just before he committed suicide.

Amid the circumstances of a neighbor’s blackmailing, the calling of an artist, and the preservation of a series of priceless books containing hidden textual clues, Lovett bathes his novel with the urgency of our unlikely hero’s dilemma. Recollecting those first, heady days back in 1985 when he fell in love with Amanda, Peter embarks on a nail-biting journey, closing in on his literary chase even as the Pandosto evades various greedy opportunists who are all to ready to supply incriminating information through a vast network of book dealers.

Lovett replicates the various time periods through which the Pandosto passes with panache, along with famous names, events, and political issues, and the various personal rivalries and animosities that accompanied the businesses of bookselling and bookbinding. I also appreciated Lovett’s insight into Peter’s personal struggles, and how his passion for Amanda still burns and faintly kindles even when he’s one step from tragedy in a harrowing chase that--for me--resembles Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2013

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