Michael Gruber has written three perfectly good supernaturally-tinged thrillers, set in Miami–Tropic of Night, Valley of Bones, and Night of the Jaguar. He’s really raised the stakes though with his new novel, The Book of Air and Shadows. It’s much more ambitious than his earlier books, weaving together three narrative strands.
One is the first-person narration of Jake Mishkin, former olympic weight lifter, womanizer, intellectual property lawyer, mess. He’s entrusted with documents which suggest the existence of an unknown Shakespeare play, and the person who gave them to him is killed.
Second, we see Albert Crosetti, nerd and film school wannabe, discovering the documents, under suspicious circumstances. Let’s just say there’s a femme fatale involved, whose loyalty is in question. Russian gangsters, too.
Finally, we have the documents themselves, a series of letters (some ciphered) by Richard Bracegirdle to his wife and the nobleman who’s set him spying on William Shakespeare. Trying to prove the playwright’s Catholic sympathies, Bracegirdle suggests a play about Mary, Queen of Scots that would rally sentiment against the Puritans. If it was actually written, if it survived, if the whole thing isn’t an elaborate hoax, this could be the most valuable portable object on earth.
The ciphers, and revelations about a cultural icon, of course suggest that Gruber is slipping into Da Vinci Code territory. While both books are expertly constructed thrillers, Jake Mishkin is way more fascinating a character than Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon.