The Bookman’s Tale
Published by: Penguin
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop in the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to outrun his grief and rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it can’t be her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet, the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.
Communing with Amanda’s spirit as he wrestles with the mystery, Peter follows a trail of clues across the centuries—from a raucous London tavern where the unscrupulous bookseller Barthlomew Habottle plots against the “upstart crow” William Shakespeare, to the unfinished ramparts of an Oxfordshire mansion where a frustrated Victorian painter mourns his lost love and takes revenge on his book-collecting rival. Along the way Peter discovers his Holy Grail: a priceless literary artifact that could prove the truth about Shakespeare’s identity. Fearing the book may be a forgery, Peter races against time to prove its authenticity, evading the clutches of a murderer, meeting a woman who may hold the key to the mystery of the portrait, and finally discovering the truth about his own past and his precious Amanda.
The Bookman’s Tale is a former antiquarian bookseller’s sparkling novel that is at once a deeply moving love story as well as a delightful exploration of one of literature’s most tantalizing mysteries.
Praise & Reviews
"Lovett tells his story with ease, charm and a faith in his characters that eventually draws them into our sympathies."
"Love and literature know neither generation nor era."
—Parade Magazine (Top 10 Summer Reads, Fiction)
"Lovett has crafted a gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end. "
—Library Journal Starred Review
"A pleasurably escapist trans-Atlantic mystery is intricately layered with plots, murders, feuds, romances, forgeries—and antiquarian book dealing. Lovett’s engagingly traditional debut offers flavors of notable British antecedents—Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Noel Coward. A cheerily old-fashioned entertainment."
"With The Bookman's Tale, Charlie Lovett tells us a terrific story — there's mystery and suspense, murder and seduction — but more importantly, he shows us how it's all connected, all of this: the reading and the keeping and the sharing of books."
—Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
“A marvelous new Shakespearean mystery: an intelligent thriller that is also a love song for books and the people who relish them.”
—Jennifer Lee Carrell, Author of Interred with Their Bones
Book Club Guide
Some stories about the genesis of the book and how my writing passions grew out of rare books and the English countryside.
The First Idea
In 2005 I was walking alone in the Yorkshire countryside on a chilly day. I had just finished devouring the latest Harry Potter book and I was thinking about what I might like to write next when I hit on the idea of a hiding a secret in an old family chapel. I think this idea must have come from recalling a previous trip to the north of England during which some friends had taken me to see a tomb in just such a chapel. Like Evenlode House, the house near the chapel, once a fine country home, had fallen into disrepair and the residents lived in trailers in the garden.
Hay-on-Wye, Wales, Wednesday, February 15, 1995
Wales could be cold in February. Even without snow or wind the damp winter air permeated Peter's topcoat and settled in his bones as he stood outside one of the dozens of bookshops that crowded the narrow streets of Hay. Despite the warm glow in the window that illuminated a tantalizing display of Victorian novels, Peter was in no hurry to open the door. It had been nine months since he had entered a bookshop; another few minutes wouldn't make a difference. There had been a time when this was all so familiar, so safe; when stepping into a rare bookshop had been a moment of excitement, meeting a fellow book lover a part of a grand adventure.
Peter Byerly was, after all, a bookseller. It was the profession that had brought him to England again and again, and the profession that brought him to Hay-on-Wye, the famous town of books just over the border in Wales, on this dreary afternoon. He had visited Hay many times before, but today was the first time he had ever come alone.