Monday, June 20, 2016

Lost manuscripts, hidden libraries, and antiquarian bookshops with dollops of mystery … Bibliothrillers anyone? PART 2

Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale proved to be different sort of thriller.  It is about a best-selling author Vita Winter, who has written a book, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, but it has only twelve stories.  In later editions of the book, the title of the book was amended to just Tales of Change and Desperation, but a few copies of the first edition were printed and the missing tale becomes a tantalising mystery.  A number of biographies are written about her and no two biographies have anything in common about her life.  Winter doesn’t make things any easier by telling different stories about herself to journalists at different times.  Many had attempted to uncover the truth, but failed.  So, her life is a secret and she decides to reveal her secret to an antiquarian bookseller and bookish biographer, Margaret Lea.  Lea had read Winter’s first edition and is intrigued and she too wants to meet Winter to find out about the missing thirteenth tale. 

The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber is a hunt for an unknown Shakespeare manuscript.  This novel moves between the 17th century and contemporary times.  Some 17th century letters, which hint at the existence of an undiscovered play, are discovered in an antiquarian bookshop in New York.  One of the workers makes off with the letters and sells them to a Shakespearean scholar.  Some encrypted letters are thrown into the mix, which when decrypted would help locate the play.  And these letters are held back by the worker.  An intellectual property lawyer joins the hunt when the scholar hands over the letters to him for safekeeping.  The hunt begins.  Of course, there are murders, chases, the mob, kidnappings, international conspiracy, et al.  The 17th century letters take us back to an imagined Shakespearean world, where the bard himself makes an appearance, and the letters written in ‘Shakespearean’ English lends authenticity to the recreation of that era.      

I tried to locate the other two books for a long time, but I was not successful.  Even now, while The Secret of Lost Things is available (postage charges cancel out the discount!!), The Pale Blue Eye continues to tease with its very high price.  While The Secret of Lost Things is about the discovery of a handwritten lost book by Hermann Melville, in The Pale Blue Eye set in 1830, a cadet named Edgar Allen Poe, a moody poet, helps a police detective investigate a series of murders!  I have been waiting to read these, but sometimes the reading wave goes up and down, and it has been almost ten years now since I first heard of them, but I think I will bite the bullet and buy the anyway, or maybe I will wait out for a while longer while I hopefully scour the streets of Abids. 

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