My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Disgraced Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish first learned about The School of Night from his close friend Alonzo Wax. In the 1600’s, a group of English freethinkers, among them Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Harriott, Walter Raleigh, and William Shakespeare, met clandestinely to discuss such forbidden topics as atheism, science, and alchemy. Now, having attended Alonzo’s memorial service, Henry is disconcerted by a proposition put to him by a noted book collector, Bernard Styles. Alonzo, it seems, had stolen an ancient letter, purportedly written by Raleigh, which refers somewhat cryptically to the School. A check in the amount of $10,000 convinces Henry that he might be able to recover the letter and return it to Styles.
What follows is an engrossing tale involving parallel story lines and characters (17th century and modern), which in turn becomes an adventure, a murder mystery, a treasure hunt (complete with enigmatic map), and a love story. Deftly plotted and beautifully written, The School of Night overflows with energy, buffeting surprises, and several double twists that make it difficult to put this book down. Other enticements include a meticulous depiction of a slice of Elizabethan life, vivid characters and dialogue, and a couple of ingenious revelations at the end that open minds to previously unrecognized possibilities. Louis Bayard has become one of my favorite writers for his rich prose, solid research, and amazing ability to draw readers into the world of his characters.