The Bookman’s Tale
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Buy the Book: Bookmarks (Signed Copies), Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound
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
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"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)
Library Journal STARRED Review: "Peter Byerly cut himself off from the world to recover from the loss of his wife, Amanda, who died nine months ago. An American antiquarian bookseller now living in England, Peter returns to work and discovers, in an 18th-century book about Shakespeare forgeries, a Victorian miniature portrait of a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife. His research to identify the watercolor’s origins uncovers what could be the holy grail of Shakespeare studies—a book annotated by the Bard at the time he was writing A Winter’s Tale—and leads Peter on a dangerous quest to prove the book’s authenticity. Interwoven throughout are flashbacks to Peter’s early relationship with Amanda and chapters on the book’s travels through many hands since 1592. VERDICT Drawing on debates about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays as well his own experience in the cutthroat world of antiquarian books, debut author Lovett has crafted a gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end. Recommended for fans of Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book, Shakespeare aficionados, and bibliophiles. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/12.]"
—Katie Lawrence, Chicago
"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—while spinning tales in several different eras, all centered on the book that supposedly inspired Shakespeare’s play A Winter’s Tale. The novel’s hero is insecure, grieving, widowed bookseller Peter Byerly, whose scholarship to Ridgefield University in North Carolina introduced him to his twin passions: his future wife, Amanda, and old books. Peter’s wooing and winning of Amanda is one of the novel’s three concurrent plot strands, the others (both set in the U.K.) being a here-and-now hunt and chase and a through-the-ages tracing of a volume of Pandosto, a play by Robert Greene which came to be annotated by Shakespeare and, if found and exposed in modern times, would answer an earth-shattering (to some) question of scholarship: Did Shakespeare really write his plays or not? Peter’s discovery, in a bookshop, of a Victorian watercolor portrait seemingly of his dead wife sets this sizable ball rolling and leads through new female friendships, murder scenes and tombs to a pleasing-if-predictable country-house denouement. A cheerily old-fashioned entertainment."
"I don't read much fiction. I'm picky. But I loved racing through Charlie Lovett's The Bookman's Tale, a richly rewarding thriller filled with real-world details about the discovery of a rare book that may or may not be a priceless Shakespearean artifact. Fun for everyone who's ever fondled a soft leather binding!"
—Daniel Rover Singer, co-author of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
"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. It forms a chain long and strange enough to tie a heartbroken young scholar from North Carolina back to the Bard himself, who might or might not have been William Shakespeare. Every link along the way is a bookman's tale all its own, and Lovett tells them all, except the very last, of course: because that's you, about to read this book right now."
—Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
“Lovett’s novel, The Bookman’s Tale, is a marvelous new Shakespearean mystery: an intelligent thriller that is also a love song for books and the people who relish them. Lovett knows his stuff about Shakespeare, rare books, and the passions that both inspire, and he weaves from these a delicious tale of love, loss, and the thrill of discovery. It kept me turning pages till the wee hours for days. The only disappointment was that it came to an end.”
—Jennifer Lee Carrell, Author of Interred with Their Bones
“Absolutely wonderful! A story for book lovers by a book lover about a book lover! It’s less a mystery, as I suspected, and more of an old-fashioned story of a treasure hunt. This time, the treasure is the lost volume proving Shakespeare wrote all his plays. The characters are delightful, and you totally root for them throughout. I think a lot of our customers would agree. Delightful!”
—Bill Carl, Bookseller, Joseph-Beth Books
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.