A Burnable Book

by Bruce Holsinger | Mystery & Thrillers |
ISBN: 9780062240347 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 4/28/2021
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Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Wednesday, April 28, 2021
I got this softcover from Better World Books. I'd listened to the book via this Audible.com audiobook, and wanted a print copy to release.

The story's intriguing, both literally and figuratively, as it deals with intrigues against King Richard II and with a variety of other plots and counterplots. Central characters include John Gower, a 50-something poet and information broker whose own past is suggested to include a lot of informants, influence, and even blackmail. (The historical Gower was indeed a contemporary of Chaucer and a poet, though his reputation faded in contrast to that of his friend.) His friendship with Chaucer (who's roughly in his mid-forties as of the setting of this novel) leads to a mission: Chaucer asks him to track down a book, the "burnable book" of the title, kickiing off a series of revelations, confrontations, and deaths before the truth comes out.

Other key characters include several prostitutes or "maudlyns": sisters Millicent (who'd retired from prostitution to be the mistress of a prior, but was left bankrupt at his death) and Agnes (whose beauty and liveliness have made her very popular in her profession), and Eleanor Rykener, aka Edgar - a nonbinary cis male who usually prefers to identify as female but will switch back and forth. [In a fascinating note, she's based on a historical character known only from a court transcript.] When Agnes comes into possession of the sought-for book after witnessing the brutal murder of the woman who'd originally had it, she and her sister seek to turn it into cash somehow, recognizing that the intricate needlework cloth that wraps it and the scandalous content - prophecies of the deaths of kings, including that of the current king - should be worth a lot. But can they find the right buyer without getting themselves into trouble? [Hint: no. No, they cannot. But that doesn't stop them trying.] Eleanor has a need for cash too, to try and free her younger brother from a cruel master to whom he's been apprenticed as a butcher.

There's a back story too, with tidbits woven between the other chapters - a technique that builds suspense but that is also a bit frustrating, as it's clear that if that narrative had been read to its conclusion before the story began, it would have saved a lot of trouble {wry grin}. But there are in-story reasons why it didn't become apparent earlier, so there's that.

Overall I enjoyed the story, but I did get a bit frustrated at the amount of repetition of key plot points; even though they were phrased as characters passing along information to others as the story progressed, it slowed the narrative for me. And early on we learn that John Gower's eyes are starting to fail, something that's presented as a great (and understandable) worry for him - but the story progresses without its ever being an issue, whether he's trying to read someone's letters upside down while they're writing or is watching for signs of an assassin across a crowded plaza. Chekhov's myopia seems to have failed there!

I was also disappointed at the revelations about the origins of the book, though I suppose it's the sort of thing that might have happened; just felt a bit lame after all the high crimes and danger. [The fact that the person who knew all this chose not to reveal any of it until late in the story was also annoying, and not just to me; the character it was revealed to was justifiably irked too, though he seems to have chosen to roll with it.]

So: interesting historical mystery with some intriguing characters and scenes, but - for me - some flaws as well. But I'm giving it a bonus point for the Edgar/Eleanor character and storyline, which turned out a lot better than I'd feared going in!

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing at Little Free Library, Benson Park in Hudson, New Hampshire USA on Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Released 2 days ago (5/4/2021 5:00 PM UTC) at Little Free Library, Benson Park in Hudson, New Hampshire USA


Guidelines for safely visiting and stocking Little Free Libraries during the COVID-19 pandemic, from the LFL site here.

Just learned that the Benson Park Little Free Library is back in place, so I'm planning to drop off some books. Hope someone enjoys them!

[See other recent releases in NH here.]

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