Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: "The School of Night"

Louis Bayard's new novel The School of Night (forthcoming from Henry Holt) is in some ways the stereotypical "academic thriller": untimely death of a collector + somewhat bumbling friend left to figure out what's going on + infusion of cash from dead collector's rival + surprise arrival of a mysterious woman as sidekick/love interest + inscrutable encrypted manuscript which might or might not lead to buried treasure + parallel storyline set several centuries earlier featuring real historical personages which slowly converges with the contemporary plot.

Thankfully in Bayard's hands this formula actually results in a good book. He's added a few surprising twists at each stage, and created some interesting characters (some of whom I suspect we may see more of at some point). And for his historical character he's taken somehow a bit less overdone, choosing Thomas Harriot (astronomer, explorer, artist, mathematician, &c.), rather than Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Northumberland, or Walter Ralegh. This gives him a little bit more leeway (since there's so little we know about Harriot), which he uses to his advantage.

I had a tough time putting this one down once I'd gotten started. If you're a Bayard fan, don't miss it.

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