The sequel to Back Bay (1979) gives the Michener treatment to our richest university as antiquities dealer and Harvard alumnus Peter Fallon hunts for a copy of a lost Shakespeare play.
Martin (Citizen Washington, 1999, etc.) uses the fortunes and foibles of the Wedge family, whose offspring have attended Harvard from its beginning, to show that, despite numerous curriculum changes, more than a few ignoble alumni, and some embarrassing controversies, Harvard really has fostered American self-determination and generosity of spirit. The generosity takes the form of paying for some, if not all, of the education of any student Harvard wants to admit, and, in the case of the fictional Wedge family, protecting the only surviving copy of Love’s Labors Won,” which Shakespeare himself gave to his friend, Stratford butcher, innkeeper, and book collector Robert Harvard, as a “talisman of good fortune.” John takes the play, with his collection of books, to New England, where his library and his financial bequest begin the university that bears his name. Stolen from the library by the college’s sadistic and corrupt first master, the play is retrieved by plucky Isaac Wedge, an impoverished student who hides it because of the 17th-century Puritan animosity to theater. The play is never far from later generations of the Wedge family, which has at least one child always attending Harvard through its history. Martin intercuts the historical scenes (we meet everyone from a stuttering Cotton Mather to a blustering Joseph Kennedy) with standard thriller high-jinks involving Fallon, who uses his alumni connections both for business and pleasure. Fallon is attempting to ensure his son’s acceptance to the college when a descendant of Isaac Wedge hints of a very valuable book once in his family’s possession. Fallon hooks up with his conveniently divorced old flame, finds himself pursued by organized crime thugs—and the chase is on.
Rollicking historical that’s certain to get the top shelf at the Harvard Co-Op.