Peter Byerly, an antiquarian book dealer, has escaped to England to try to recover from the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, when he finds a painting of her between the pages of a book. The problem is, the watercolor of Amanda was painted a hundred years before she was born.
Peter steals it and embarks on a quest to discover who the mysterious painter, B.B., was, and who the model was who sat for the portrait. This leads by various ways and means to a breakneck and bloody chase across England in pursuit of the one book that may — or may not — provide irrefutable proof that Shakespeare did in fact write Shakespeare and shut the Oxfordians up once and for all.
There is enjoyable prose
A moderately wealthy nineteenth-century merchant family, they had become impressively wealthy in tobacco, then excessively wealthy in textiles, and now obscenely wealthy in banking.
and some nice plotting between Peter’s present and past life and the history of the book in question (think of the violin in The Red Violin), and we even get to meet Shakespeare
Perhaps I should put you in the play. A thief, a rogue, but a likeable man. A comic rogue, if you will. Not quite a clown–darker than a clown–and a schemer. A salesman.
I always feel like I have to justify my stars, so I’ll say here that this book would have been four but the author kinda went over the top there, going at least two plot twists and one frankly unbelievable coincidence too far, which wouldn’t have been so bad except you can see them coming at you like a freight train. Read it anyway, because all the stuff about the books and bookbinding and forgery is fascinating, and as Lovett writes in the afterword
All the published books mentioned in the text and their bibliographical details are real…
He should know, because he’s an antiquarian bookseller and collector himself. Recommended.