When disgraced Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish becomes executor of his friend Alonzo Wax’s estate, he thinks his biggest problem will be paying off his impractical friend’s debts and cataloguing his vast collection of manuscripts and books. But instead, Henry is approached by an antiquarian with a sinister reputation who’s searching for the other half of a fragmented letter, from Sir Walter Raleigh to his lesser-known friend, scientist Thomas Hariot. Bernard Styles is certain that Wax had the letter—and that it’s the key to the mystery of the School of Night, a group of scholars that is said to have included the likes of Marlowe and Shakespeare, in addition to Hariot and Raleigh.
Despite some doubts, Henry agrees—Styles is offering a lot of money, after all—but after Wax’s vault is robbed and a close friend is murdered, Henry starts to rethink his commitment to sharing the letter with Styles and decides to uncover its secrets himself. He meets a mysterious woman, Clarissa Dale, who has a special interest in the School of Night, and together the two set out to solve the mystery. The story of their quest alternates with the 17th-century tale of Hariot himself, a man of science whose isolation is breached by a maid whose mind is a match for his own.
In The School of Night, author Louis Bayard makes a slight departure from distinctive historical mysteries like The Black Tower and The Pale Blue Eye (which has just been optioned for film) toward the post-Da Vinci Code genre of past-meets-present thrillers with a literary angle. He makes the change adroitly—both storylines are neatly paced, with intriguing plot twists that keep the pages turning. Fans of authors like Matthew Pearl and Rebecca Stott shouldn’t miss Bayard’s latest offering.