In a comic thriller written with remarkable flair, successful author Michael Gruber (Valley of Bones) serves up an elaborately layered and devilishly detailed masterpiece in The Book of Air and Shadows. The plot revolves around an intriguing quest: the modern-day search for an unknown, unpublished and hidden play by William Shakespeare. Action begins with the discovery of a 17th-century letter along with a baffling coded message that had been hidden in the binding of an 18th-century book. An oddball cast of quirky characters sets off in search of what seems to be a controversial Shakespearean historical drama that would have changed the course of English history (and the monarchy) if it had been discovered by Shakespeare's contemporaries.
The dramatis personae of Gruber's tour-de-force adventure include Jack Mishkin, an intellectual property lawyer (and weight-lifting Lothario with plenty of family problems), two bookstore clerks (Albert Crosetti, an aspiring Roman Polanski without much of a love life, and Carolyn Rolly, a dead ringer for Brigid O'Shaughnessy of Maltese Falcon fame), a couple of corduroy-clad Shakespearean scholars, a handful of NYC immigrant gangsters and more than a few unconventional family members. Filled with laugh-out-loud humor and meta-fictional satire, Gruber's literate novel intricately recursive and richly allusive in its innovative narration adroitly conflates the truths and lies of the human comedy; in fact, throughout The Book of Air and Shadows, Gruber wryly deconstructs the strange ways in which we deceive ourselves into believing things that are (and perhaps ought to remain) unbelievable. Not since A.S. Byatt's Possession (1990) has an author so successfully combined literary puzzle, tempestuous duplicity, human adventure and good old-fashioned story-telling. Gruber's highly recommended novel about the search for that which would be the greatest single event in Shakespeare studies a quest full of chases, murders, mysteries and eccentric characters is engaging, fast-moving and hilarious. Don't miss it! Tim Davis teaches literature at the University of West Florida.