When an antiquarian bookstore in central Manhattan mysteriously burns down, store clerk and film student Albert Crosetti thinks he's out of a job. But while sifting through the rubble, he finds a strange book inside of which are remnants of an ages-old, handwritten manuscript. Though the writing on the parchment is English, it's very old English ("Of the lodgeres heere the greater parte be drovers & some plaiers," p. 214) and Crosetti spends the remainder of his day trying to decipher the oddly composed document, soon reaching the determination that he's reading a correspondence piece authored by an Elizabethan-era soldier acting as an aid-de-camp to the royal throne.
Meanwhile Jake Mishkin is a frightened, paranoid and somewhat cranky intellectual property lawyer currently hiding out from a gang of Russian mobsters. A few months previous, Jake had agreed to advise a panicked English professor on how to secure the rights to 17th century letter which may pinpoint the location of an unknown Shakespeare play. Two days after their meeting, the professor was found tortured to death and Jake was being pursued by the same menacing assortment of perpetrators. But when fate brings Jake into contact with Albert Crosetti, who ironically knows about another similar old letter, the pair escape New York and begin their own daring adventure to follow the case's trail to England and claim the prized manuscript.
Gruber's first standalone novel (he's published a detective-mystery trilogy and a short story collection previous) is a great literary thriller, effectively and comprehensively meshing the genres of classic literature, worthwhile history, epistolary intrigue and contemporary suspense into one fascinating story. It's a book equally dominated by both the past and the present, coupling the legendary William Shakespeare, his life and times, with the conventional hurly-burly of New York City, London and further quagmires of modernity. As well, it alludes to the current legal matters involving intellectual property, an author's rights and public domain--all relevant ongoing issues of today which inevitably tie us to the world of the past. (FIC GRUBER)