The School of Night

Written by Louis Bayard
Review by Ken Kreckel

Discredited Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish is tasked by a ruthless antiquities collector to recover a missing letter which was stolen by Henry’s friend Alonzo Wax. The letter dates to the 1600s and concerns a group of brilliant men who comprise the secret School of Night. We learn of the group, which counts among its members such notables as Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe, in flashback through the actions of Thomas Harriot, who has secrets of his own. When Alonzo Wax turns up apparently dead, a search for the letter ensues, which leads Henry through a labyrinth of deception and death right up to the ancient home of Harriot himself.

More thriller than historical novel, in the mode of The Da Vinci Code, the pace is quick and the plot complex, with turns and twists aplenty. It’s a classic page turner, exceedingly well written, with sharply drawn characters and intelligent prose. The historical aspects, although a relatively minor portion of the work, are interesting, especially suited for those already drawn to the Elizabethan period. Common to this genre, there is a pay-off at the end, which may leave the reader either fascinated or incredulous.