Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: Harvard Yard

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

Part of his Peter Fallon series, Willian Martin has crafted a fascinating novel that follows a Boston family with a secret through many generations.

In 1604, Robert Harvard turns to his friend Will Shakespeare, needing advice on just the right words to express his love for Katherine Rogers. Shakespeare conjures up a few phrases, such as “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Two years later, Will Shakespeare gives the couple a gift for their new son, John: a handwritten play named Love’s Labors Won, a companion to another play, Love’s Labors Lost. In 1625, when the plague is about to take Robert’s life, he tells his son “a man is known by his books”, and extracts a promise that John will cherish all of Robert’s books, especially Love’s Labors Lost.

Twelve years later, John Harvard arrives in Puritan Boston, bringing with him his father’s books. Thus begins a story of the founding of Harvard College and a missing Shakespeare play that spans 400 years, told through the lives of the fictional Wedge family of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 1638, John Harvard dies at 30 without an heir and wills his trunks of books to a student he had sponsored at the new college, Issac Wedge, and also gives an £800 donation to the college itself. When cataloging the books, Isaac discovers the play and decides it must be hidden from the Puritans, who believe plays are evil.

In the present day, antiquarian book dealer Peter Fallon is on the trail of the possible lost play. But, he soon finds others will kill to possess it. As Fallon discovers each new clue to its location, the scene changes to the past - and another Wedge descendant - where the origin of that clue is revealed.

Harvard Yard is a long read (600 pages or so), but well worth it if you like historical novels.

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