Title: The Book of Air and Shadows
Author: Michael Gruber
Genre: Fiction – Thriller
Publication Date: 2007
Purchase Price: $15
Albert Crosetti is most definitely not living the American Dream. He lives with his mother in the dodgy end of New York, and works at a bookstore doing accounting and inventory for a pittance. His dreams of attending film school seem very far away indeed.
But a timely fire in the restaurant next door sends Crosetti off in directions he never expected. Hidden within the bindings of several books are ancient-looking pages covered in encrypted text.
And hidden within that encryption is the key to an undiscovered work by one of the greatest English-language writers: William Shakespeare.
But nothing is what it seems. Soon people (good, bad, and unknown) pop out of the woodwork — and they’ll all stop at nothing to discover the secrets of The Book of Air and Shadows.
I’m not really sure when I purchased this book, but I’m guessing it was several months ago when I went through a Shakespeare phase. The mysteries around who the man really was are endless, and so naturally the books written about him are endless as well.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Gruber’s book didn’t expound endlessly on the debates about the veracity of Shakespeare as the writer of some of the greatest plays in history. After reading hundreds of pages of it in Interred with Their Bones, I was not interested in rehashing the same arguments yet again.
The Book of Air and Shadows focuses less on the mystery surrounding Shakespeare (in it, in fact, Shakespeare was the real writer), and more on the stories of the characters who are trying to break the code in the encrypted letters, and thus find the new play.
Gruber’s book has got it all: mystery, kidnapping, car chases, guns, mobsters — even Old English. His character development is excellent, and I really enjoyed delving into the filmmaker mind of Crosetti, the calculating mind of Russian mobsters, and even the womanizing mind of Mishkin. The violent tendencies of many of the characters are balanced in the reader’s mind by the tough yet kind and intelligent Amalie, Donna, and Mary Peg.
The point of view switches between Mishkin as he narrates in third person, Crosetti in third person, and the translation versions of the encrypted letters. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, but soon the reader begins to hear the “voice” of each point of view, and the story flows seamlessly from there, all three modes coming together to a spine-shuddering climax at the book’s end.
All this complimenting aside, The Book of Air and Shadows is not going to make back to my bookshelf. I’ve always been more of a fan of mysteries than thrillers, and Gruber’s book definitely falls more within the latter category. It was interesting to learn the general processes of encryption, but to me the sections describing it sometimes went on just a bit too long.
If you’re not certain, best to borrow a copy from a friend or your local library. The Book of Air and Shadows is a good read, something the reader can sink his or her teeth into — just be prepared for a wild ride.
Temptation (performed by Cote de Pablo)
“Crosetti had known Aunt Fanny for his whole life and considered her the wisest person within the circle of his acquaintance, although when complimented upon her encyclopedic brain, she always laughed and said, ‘Darling, I know nothing but I know where to find everything.’ ” (p. 155)
” ‘Would you want Hamlet to go back to college and join a frat? Get drunk and party and get a B minus in Scholaticism 101?’
‘Doesn’t he get killed at the end of the play?’
‘He does, but don’t we all? The choice is only how we live in the five previous acts.’ ” (p. 313)