Lovett, Charlie. The Lost Book of the Grail.

NY: Penguin, 2017.

I’m a book lover and always have been, so a well-written, well-plotted intellectual thriller about librarians and bibliophiles is exactly my cup of tea. This is Lovett’s third novel of that sort — the first two being the very enjoyable The Bookman’s Tale (involving Shakespeare) and First Impressions (Jane Austen)– and this one is well up to that standard.

Arthur Prescott is a forty-year-old junior lecturer at a very mediocre university in Barchester (the author is obviously a fan of Trollope), somewhere in southern Britain, and he hates his job. But it does allow him to live in his favorite place on the planet and to spend as much time as possible in and around Barchester Cathedral, so he puts up with it. He’s a thoroughgoing medievalist with no interest in computers or other high tech, but he knows everything there is to know about the Cathedral’s library and its eighty-odd manuscripts, some of them more than a thousand years old. Arthur was named by his late, beloved grandfather, who was a Round Table and Grail fanatic, and Arthur inherited his fascination with anything Arthurian — especially his grandfather’s insistence that the Grail, the cup from the Last Supper, supposedly brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea and housed at Glastonbury — was actually hidden somewhere in Barchester. And Arthur has spent most of his life trying to work out its hiding place. He’s a close friend of Gwyneth Bowen, the widowed Dean of the Cathedral, and of two other unmarried men of the town, but other than them, Arthur is generally a pretty closed book.

But then Bethany Davis shows up from America and Arthur’s world is threatened in several ways. Bethany is a “digitizer,” there to scan those manuscripts on behalf of a billionaire who wants to make them all available for free online. He can’t help but feel threatened by this — especially since the Cathedral is perpetually short of funds and critical repairs on the Norh Transept might require selling off its manuscripts — “its history,” as Arthur insists. But Bethany is also very attractive and very smart, and even a convinced bachelor like Arthur can’t help but be affected. And he suspects she might also have an interest in the Grail — which is yet another threat.

The author is a first-rate stylist and this combination of intellectual romp in the present day and retelling of events in the Cathedral’s long history is impossible to put down. All the half-dozen principal characters glow with life and so does the fictional city of Barchester and so, especially, does its Cathedral. If you. too, are a book-lover, you’re going to want to read this one. And then go back and get hold of Lovett’s two earlier books as well.

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