Dido Hoare is an antiquarian book dealer in London, following the footsteps of her ailing, semi-retiring father Barnabas. Her apartment is over her store, while Barnabas lives nearby. Driving home from Banbury one night, Dido is followed, threateningly, almost all the way. Soon after, she's approached by ex-husband Davey Winner, a promiscuous painter/wheeler-dealer who'd left her for vapid Ilona and who now, amid signs of temporary prosperity, wants back into Dido's life. It becomes apparent that something strange is afoot when Dido's shop is trashed—and then Davey is killed by a bomb placed in the new car he never could have afforded. Detective Inspector Paul Grant enters the picture, making security arrangements for Dido and her father and becoming a romantic distraction for Dido. The murder of visiting Professor Warren, buyer for a New England library and Barnabas's friend and best customer, brings into focus the motive for all the violence: possession of an ancient volume containing a poem written in Shakespeare's own hand and signed by him. Past this point the skillfully built tension begins to evaporate in a tangle of secret meetings, shady characters, talk of drug-dealing, the mafia, Russian ex-agents, and the pros and cons of the volume's authenticity. Newcomer Macdonald's lucid, irony-edged, unfussy narration makes antique-book lore interesting even to the uninitiated, and her charmingly off-beat heroine is a character most readers will want to hear from again. Next time, if we're lucky, she'll be engaged in shenanigans less confusing than these.
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