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Bayard, Louis - 'The School of Night'
Paperback: 448 pages (Aug. 2011) Publisher: John Murray ISBN: 1848542194

A fabulous story that spans several centuries in its telling. Although THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT is a little slow to get going, and this is necessary in order for Bayard to properly set the scene, by chapter four I was fully into the plot and hooked. Part of it, set in Elizabethan England at the time of the Great Plague, is heartbreaking as well as fascinating and the other part, set in the present day, is a story of greed and betrayal, of people that stop at nothing to get what they want and don’t care who they hurt along the way. Both sections are very cleverly intertwined and the twists at the end of both of them are just brilliant. Stories involving famous historical figures are always extra-interesting and this particular tome is no exception.

The School of Night is a scholarly members club, set up by Thomas Harriet, Sir Walter Raleigh (spelled Ralegh in the book - although the reason for this is explained), and others who are the elite of Elizabethan society. It meets secretly at night and discusses forbidden subjects to do with science and religion. All members are sworn to secrecy but somehow their discussions leak out and trouble ensues. At some point after the group is disbanded, Sir Walter Raleigh sends Thomas Harriet a letter and it is the second page of this letter that becomes the object of much covetous desire in the present day section of the story…

Henry Cavendish, a failed academic, is stunned by the apparent suicide of his good friend Alonzo and attends the funeral pretty much in shock. After the service he is approached by a mysterious book collector who hires him to find a missing document. He says that the document is a valuable letter, written by Sir Walter Raleigh, that Alonzo had stolen it and that he wants it back. Cash-strapped Henry, always on the look out for ways to earn money, readily agrees. What he discovers has him running for his life, as people around him start dying in far from natural ways. His journey takes him across America, where the present day story is set, to England, in search of the past and the secrets therein. However, nothing in the past nor, indeed, the present is as it seems.

The tension in the narrative of THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT is highly strung and keeps your interest high, as you join Henry and Thomas in their quests for the truth. You will never begin to guess the twists at the end of the book. They are fantastically thought out: especially that for the Elizabethan plot, which leaves you thinking there may be some truth in it somewhere, as it was all so long ago that nobody really knows for sure what went on.

An altogether interesting and absorbing story. Well written, captivating and leading you through a whole range of emotions - from anger to laughter to devastation - as the story is revealed.

Very highly recommended.

Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland
October 2011

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 9/10/2011 10:08