The School of Night
Review: An Elizabethan literary scholar is on the trail of a missing document, one that may prove the existence of a secret society of poets and scientists from the 16th century, in The School of Night, a historical thriller by Louis Bayard.
Henry Cavendish is attending the funeral of Alonzo Wax — an eccentric man he met in college and his oldest and dearest friend — when he learns that he is the executor of Alonzo's estate. But before he can begin to sort through his late friend's affairs, he's accosted by Bernard Styles, who claims Alonzo "borrowed" — and not returned — a letter from him some time ago, one with historical significance as it suggests that "The School of Night", a group of forward-thinking scholars, actually existed and met in secret during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He offers Henry $100,000 to return it … which is rather puzzling since, if the letter legally belonged to Styles anyway, why would he pay such an astounding sum to get it back? But Henry is desperate for the cash, and agrees to search for it, a task made all the more difficult when Alonzo's entire collection of rare books and ephemera is stolen … and Alonzo's personal assistant found dead in his vault.
So begins The School of Night, a most entertaining literary adventure. And as improbable as it may seem, the search for the missing letter quickly turns into a hunt for buried gold, coded treasure map and all. The overall storyline is both intellectual and captivating, the writing crisp, the twist-filled plot moving briskly forward with only a few rather uneven albeit interesting chapters, set in 1603 and featuring scientist Thomas Harriot that provide a backstory to titular secret organization, interfering with the flow. Possibly the only significant flaw in the book is Henry's puppy love relationship, and later sleuthing partnership, with a mysterious woman he first sees at Alonzo's funeral, a lady in red (scarlet, actually) — a cliché if ever there was one — that never quite rings true. They're depicted as a somewhat stereotypical odd couple, he the head-in-the-clouds academic, she the down-to-earth businesswoman, which leads to a few comic scenes, but a little of their banter goes a long, very long way. Still, it's hard not to be completely drawn in by this engrossing novel, one that may have readers doing a bit of research afterward to learn more about some of the real-life characters, who are so prominently featured here.
Acknowledgment: Henry Holt provided an ARC of The School of Night for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in The School of Night: Washington DC, North Carolina, England
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The School of Night by Louis Bayard
Publisher: Henry Holt
Publication Date: March 2011
List Price: $25.00
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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