Antiquarian bookseller Dido Hoare (Three Monkeys, 2005, etc.) takes custody of a mysterious manuscript as dangerous as it is indecipherable.
Just back from several years in Amsterdam, Canadian-born book runner Gabriel Steen stops into Dido Hoare’s Islington shop to offer her a few routine items he’s picked up. After taking a call on his cell phone, however, Gabriel abruptly shifts course. He takes out a thick illustrated vellum manuscript in a language Dido can’t read and offers her a deal. For £2000, she can hold onto the manuscript until he sells it; then he’ll give her £1000 and half of whatever it fetches. Dido barely hesitates before opening her safe and counting out the banknotes. But when she learns that Gabriel was killed by a hit-and-run driver hours after the transaction, she can’t help worrying that she made a mistake. The constant attention of both the local police and a shadowy stalker does nothing to assuage her fears. Neither do frequent visits from Gabriel’s self-identified partner Ishmael Peters, “the most annoying person I’d ever met,” who regales her with a series of increasingly wild tales about her prize. Comparing herself to her father, a retired Oxford don, Dido muses, “I don’t enjoy just scraping away at the edges of big, big mysteries. I need answers.”
The simmering menace never quite comes to a boil, but Macdonald persuasively captures the obsessive avidity of the true collector.