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The Book of Air and Shadowsby Michael Gruber
Synopses & Reviews
A distinguished Shakespearean scholar found tortured to death...
A lost manuscript and its secrets buried for centuries...
An encrypted map that leads to incalculable wealth...
The Washington Post called Michael Gruber's previous work "a miracle of intelligent fiction and among the essential novels of recent years." Now comes his most intellectually provocative and compulsively readable novel yet.
Tap-tapping the keys and out come the words on this little screen, and who will read them I hardly know. I could be dead by the time anyone actually gets to read them, as dead as, say, Tolstoy. Or Shakespeare. Does it matter, when you read, if the person who wrote still lives?
These are the words of Jake Mishkin, whose seemingly innocent job as an intellectual property lawyer has put him at the center of a deadly conspiracy and a chase to find a priceless treasure involving William Shakespeare. As he awaits a killer — or killers — unknown, Jake writes an account of the events that led to this deadly endgame, a frantic chase that began when a fire in an antiquarian bookstore revealed the hiding place of letters containing a shocking secret, concealed for four hundred years. In a frantic race from New York to England and Switzerland, Jake finds himself matching wits with a shadowy figure who seems to anticipate his every move. What at first seems like a thrilling puzzle waiting to be deciphered soon turns into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, where no one — not family, not friends, not lovers — is to be trusted.
Moving between twenty-first-century America and seventeenth-century England, The Book of Air and Shadows is a modern thriller that brilliantly re-creates William Shakespeare's life at the turn of the seventeenth century and combines an ingenious and intricately layered plot with a devastating portrait of a contemporary man on the brink of self-discovery...or self-destruction.
"In this ingenious literary thriller from Gruber (The Witch's Boy), the lives of two men are changed forever by William Shakespeare and the letters of Richard Bracegirdle, a 16th-century English spy and soldier. Jake Mishkin, a Manhattan intellectual property attorney and a bit of a rake, goes on the run from Russian gangsters. Albert Crosetti, an aspiring filmmaker working for an antiquarian bookstore, finds that life is more exciting than movies — perhaps too exciting. Together, Mishkin and Crosetti travel to England in search of a previously unknown Shakespeare manuscript mentioned by Bracegirdle. Though the pace sometimes slows to allow Mishkin, Crosetti and Bracegirdle to divulge interesting aspects of their personal lives, these digressions only make the story more engaging. The suspense created around the double-crosses and triple-crosses works because of the close connection readers forge with Crosetti in particular. The mysterious murder of a Shakespearean scholar, shootouts in the streets of Queens and an unlikely romance all combine to make for a gripping, satisfying read." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Contrary to what you may have heard, the life of a book reviewer is not unending adventure. It's lots of speed-reading and sitting around in your bathrobe, trying to finish the next review while scouring the cupboard for more chocolate chips and wondering if that mole on your shoulder is looking weirder. Oh sure, 'There is no frigate like a book/ To take us lands away,' but give me a frigate break;... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) sometimes you wouldn't mind a few thrills. Which may be why I'm such a sucker for this relatively new genre of books that are literally literary thrillers — stories in which some pudgy book guy is propelled into a vortex of romance, crime and intrigue. If you love books — their physical presence, the craft of making them, the art of collecting them — then you already may well have enjoyed Ross King's 'Ex Libris,' Carlos Ruiz Zafsn's 'The Shadow of the Wind,' and a dozen others. Now make room on the shelf for a new guilty pleasure from Michael Gruber called 'The Book of Air and Shadows.' It's smart enough to let you think you're still superior to that cousin who raves about 'The Da Vinci Code,' but it's packed with enough excitement to keep your inner bibliophile as happy as a folio in vellum. Gruber's story revolves around the search for the most sought-after document in the world: a new play by William Shakespeare. In his own handwriting. To get an idea of how precious such a treasure would be, consider that for 400 years the entire Shakespeare industry has managed to find only six tiny samples of the playwright's handwriting: signatures (all misspelled) on a few legal documents. What would a Shakespeare scholar do to find an entire play in the Bard's hand? Whom would a criminal mastermind kill to steal it? Enter 'The Book of Air and Shadows,' stage right. The story begins with a fire at a rare bookshop on Madison Avenue. The next day, while trying to salvage some of the merchandise, Carolyn Rolly (gorgeous, mysterious) and Albert Crosetti (lives with mom) discover some pages hidden in the binding of an old book. After struggling for hours with the difficult handwriting and archaic spelling, Crosetti determines that he's reading a letter written by a 17th-century soldier on his deathbed. Excerpts of this letter appear throughout the novel in alternating chapters, and it's not easy going: 'Now my father seeyng this taxed us sayyng what shal you not only be idle thyselfe but also tayke my clerke into idlenesse with thee?' You'll be tempted to skip these rough patches, but don't. First of all, they get easier as you get used to them, and second, they're a chance to experience the mingled tedium and thrill of discovery. The letter describes a spectacularly exciting life, which culminated in an assignment to spy on a popular playwright and suspected Roman Catholic, Shakespeare. Meanwhile, another thread of the novel takes up the story of Jake Mishkin, an intellectual-property lawyer who's holed up in a cabin in the Adirondacks. While waiting for some Russian gangsters who will surely kill him, he's typing out the story of how he got in this mess. 'Although there is a kind of lawyer who can reasonably expect a certain level of physical danger as part of the employment picture,' he writes in his witty, rambling narrative, 'I am not that kind of lawyer.' Once an Olympic weightlifter, he's long since settled down to shuffling paper, cheating on his wife and leading a generally dull and morally vacuous life. But several months earlier, a frightened English professor came to his office. He wanted advice about how to secure the rights to a 17th-century letter that may point to the location of an unknown manuscript by Shakespeare. Jake promised to advise him and took possession of the letter, but soon after that meeting, the professor was found tortured to death, and Jake found his exquisitely ordered and pampered existence thrown into deadly disarray. What follows is a wild story of double-crossings, forgeries, kidnappings and murders that's engrossing even when it's ridiculous. (At one point, the code secret is tattooed on a beautiful woman's thigh — so handy.) We've got Russian mobsters, Jewish gangsters, Nazi thieves, international models and currency traders, oh my. And all of this madcap adventure in the present is mirrored in a story we gradually decipher from that 17th-century letter, describing a nefarious plot by radical Puritans to entrap 'the secret papist Shaxpure.' While twisting the plot into great knots of complexity, Gruber mixes in fascinating details about rare manuscripts, intellectual property, and ancient and modern cryptography. Sadly, the women in this novel don't come off much better than they do in the average James Bond movie, but Jake is a truly engaging narrator, who's forced by this crisis to face up to a lifetime of moral weakness. And young Crosetti, who works in the rare bookstore only to put himself through film school, constantly reminds us — even in the most dire circumstances — that movies determine 'our sense of how to behave. ... Movies shape everyone's reality.' That's a pop echo of Harold Bloom's 'Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human' (1998), which argued that the Bard's plays literally created modern consciousness, assembling a vast index of human personalities and experiences in which we continue to find ourselves. Gruber never reaches for Bloom's gravitas (thank God), but, as Bottom would say, it's 'a very good piece of work, I assure you.' Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World." Reviewed by Benjamin ForgeyJoseph J. EllisWilliam Jelani CobbJames T. CampbellMichael DirdaRon Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"The plot summary...might seem like yet another rubbing of the grail were it not for Gruber's intelligence and engaging style....Gruber deftly raises the thriller stakes and accelerates the plot while still creating convincing personal journeys for his characters." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A] fast-moving and often hilarious tale about the usually torpid worlds of rare books and academia....A wonderful story with absolutely superb casting." Kirkus Reviews
"The end result is more ambitious and thoughtful than most potboilers....But The Book of Air and Shadows can't quite shake off its own cleverness....
"[F]ew [thrillers] will surpass The Book of Air and Shadows when it comes to energetic writing, compellingly flawed characters, literary scholarship, mathematical conundrums and that oh-so-necessary dose of comic relief." USA Today
"[R]eaders will be fascinated by the book's 16th-century subplot, full of 'weighty matteres of faith & politicks,' bawdy pun-fests and other glimpses of the man Shakespeare may have been." Dallas Morning News
"Michael Gruber pulls out all the stops as an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse ensues....Keeping track of the convolutions gets maddening, but the payoff just about makes the effort worth it." Newsday
"[F]earless, intricate and intelligent....So what does Gruber's book have that something like The Da Vinci Code lacks? Well, stylish and confident prose, for starters....Gruber keeps the various juggling balls of his provocative tale high in the air." Seattle Times
"Gruber is a master of his material. He sidesteps the obvious risks with disparate plot lines, and his remain unmuddied and ultimately join together naturally." Denver Post
"Smart and irreverent." Charlotte Observer
"Entertaining. A wild ride." Wichita Eagle
"Another one of [Gruber's] patently intricate thrillers." Entertainment Weekly
Hidden in the binding of a charred and ruined book is a cache of letters. They are encrypted and the key to unlocking the mysterious code has been lost for 400 years. If the letters are read, they will lead to one of the most valuable items in the history of the world.
A fire destroys a New York City rare bookstore—and reveals clues to a treasure worth killing for. . . . A disgraced scholar is found tortured to death. . . . And those pursuing the most valuable literary find in history are about to cross from the harmless mundane into inescapable nightmare.
From the acclaimed, bestselling author of Tropic of Night comes a breathtaking thriller that twists, shocks, and surprises at every turn as it crisscrosses centuries, from the glaring violence of today into the dark shadows of truth and lies surrounding the greatest writer the world has ever known.
About the Author
Michael Gruber has been a marine biologist, a restaurant cook, a federal government official, and a political speechwriter. He lives in Seattle, Washington, and is currently at work on another novel.
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