The Bookman's Tale is a love letter to the world of books--not e-books, not read 'em and toss 'em paperbacks, but books that have survived hundreds of years in dusty old bookstores, on the shelves of manor houses, and in some cases--tombs.
There are three stories in this novel, but the main character throughout is Peter Byerly, a young widower who makes a living as a rare book dealer. He buys them, fixes them up, and sells them to those who collect old books. It's a passion he discovered while attending college at Ridgefield in North Carolina. There he also met his other passion: Amanda, the young student who would become his wife and the love of his life.
Peter has moved to a small village in England to escape the pain of losing Amanda. He's naturally a very shy, withdrawn man, and his doctor has given him a list of things to do to move through his grief and start living again: meet new people, keep in touch with old friends, start his career again. Get up and eat meals, make an effort. Peter doesn't much feel like doing any of these things, but one day he finds himself in a bookstore thumbing through an old book. And what he finds--a watercolor of a woman who looks exactly like his deceased wife, Amanda--starts him on a journey that includes murder, family feuds, Shakespeare, and potentially the greatest literary find of the century.
Who painted this watercolor? Who is B.B? And how is his wife connected to a painting clearly made over a hundred years ago? This begins Peter on an adventure that will change his life, open up a new world for him, and help him rediscover his passion for books.
Another story line includes the journey that the Pandosto takes through the 1600's to present day. What's the Pandosto? It's a small booklet that became the basis for Shakespeare's play Winter's Tale. And it has handwritten notes in the margins from Shakespeare himself--thereby proving he was the author of his plays. To prove this is an authentic Shakespearean item means a huge deal in the rare book world, and will finally shut down all the nay-sayers who for centuries have doubted Shakespeare actually wrote any plays at all. It's the holy grail of the rare book world--and the author does a superb job tying the Pandosto into Peter's world of 1995. But, is what Peter discovered the real deal, or a clever forgery?
The action picks up about midway through the novel, as the story switches back and forth between Peter and the journey of the Pandosto. And it's the tale of the men who each own the Pandosto through the centuries that help Peter solve the puzzle of the watercolor he found of the mysterious woman.
I enjoy a good story that involves solving an age-old mystery, and this novel has it all--a likeable main character, a good back story, and a clever plot that twists and turns until the satisfactory ending. You find yourself rooting for Peter, as he slowly picks himself up from his never ending grief and begins to live again.
This book will be available at the end of May in hardcover, audio, and e-book format.
Rating: 7/10. I liked the mix of mystery, forgery, and Shakespeare with the contemporary world of rare books. I also liked Peter and, through back stories, Amanda.