Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: School of Night

Louis Bayard has set his latest historical mystery, School of Night,  in Elizabethan London. His premise is that a group of scholars, including Thomas Harriot, William Shakespeare, Walter Raleigh, and Christopher Marlow, met secretly to discuss heretical ideas, including God, the black arts, astronomy, and politics.
In present day, Washington, DC, Alonzo Wax and Henry Cavendish decided to create their own School of Night as the Elizabethan group was known. The book opens with Alonzo’s death and funeral. At the funeral, a rare book collector, Bernard Styles, approaches Henry Cavendish, now a disgraced academic and executor of Alonzo’s estate, with an offer of money to find an Elizabethan document Styles believes Alonzo possessed that may lead to hidden treasure.
 Bayard returns us to Elizabethan London and the School of Nigh while at the same time keeping us in the present. Interestingly, he writes the London scenes in the present tense and the Washington scenes in the past tense. He manages to keep both time frames moving, although, for those readers interested in historical mysteries, the chapters set in London are the more interesting. There are twists and turns at every opportunity, a conspiracy theory, and lots of historical data.
The opening chapters, set in Washington, are very slow going. Many readers may not make it beyond the first 50 pages or so, but for those who do, this book is well worth the read.

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