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.