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Ex Libris [Hardcover]

Ross King
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 9 1998
The second novel, by the author of Brunelleschi’s Dome, and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling is an elaborate historical mystery.

Responding to a cryptic summons to a remote country house, London bookseller Isaac Inchbold finds himself responsible for restoring a magnificent library pillaged during the English Civil War, and in the process slipping from the surface of 1660s London into an underworld of spies and smugglers, ciphers and forgeries.

As he assembles the fragments of a complex historical mystery, Inchbold learns how Sir Ambrose Plessington, founder of the library, escaped from Bohemia on the eve of the Thirty Years War with plunder from the Imperial Library. Inchbold’s hunt for one of these stolen volumes -- a lost Hermetic text -- soon casts him into an elaborate intrigue. His fortunes hang on the discovery of the missing manuscript but his search reveals that the elusive volume is not what it seems and that he has been made an unwitting player in a treacherous game.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Isaac Inchbold, middle-aged proprietor of Nonsuch Books, has never traveled more than 24 leagues from London, where by 1660 he has made his home above his bookshop for 25 years. King (Domino) opens his finely wrought tale with Inchbold's receipt of a strange letter from an unknown woman, Alethea Greatorex, or Lady Marchamont. Surprising himself and his apprentice, Tom Monk, Inchbold consents to visit her at Pontifex Hall, in Dorsetshire. Once he arrives at the crumbling manor house, Lady Marchamont shows him its extraordinary library and sets him a strange task: he is to track down a certain ancient and heretical manuscript, The Labyrinth of the World, missing from her collection and identifiable by her father's ex libris. Withholding much relevant informationAsuch as the reasons that her husband and father were murderedAshe offers him a sum greater than his yearly income, but gives no reason other than that she wishes the collection undiminished. When he accepts the job, Inchbold is drawn into a clandestine, centuries-old battle over the manuscriptAhis every move, it seems, dictated by some unseen hand. King expertly leads his protagonist through an endless labyrinth of clues, discoveries and dangers, all the while expertly detailing 17th-century Europe's struggles over religion and knowledge. He interweaves a subplot describing the manuscript's journey from Prague to Pontifex Hall that involves theft, flight and murder. The world of the novel is satisfyingly complete, from its ornate syntax and vocabulary to the Dickensian names of its characters (Phineas Greenleaf, Dr. Pickvance, Nat Crumb); its beleaguered, likable narrator is fully developed; and its fast-paced action is intricately conceived. Fans of literary thrillers by the likes of Eco, Hoeg and Perez-Reverte will delight in this suspenseful, confident and intelligent novel. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Isaac Inchbold, the asthmatic proprietor of Nonsuch Books on London Bridge, is an unassuming hero, drawn into a dangerous game of duplicity and intrigue when he is asked to track down an elusive manuscript in the summer of 1660. The Labyrinth of the World, marked with the ex-libris of intrepid collector Sir Ambrose Plessington, may be a little-known Hermetic text, a map of the lost city of El Dorado, or a heretical document capable of causing vast political upheaval. It is also being sought by a menacing trio of men in black, whom Inchbold must outwit to survive. King (Domino; Brunelleschi's Dome) has created a literary historical thriller in the vein of The Name of the Rose. It delivers fascinating but arcane facts about ciphers, Mercator maps, astronomy, and invisible ink in an engaging tale that only occasionally becomes tedious. For all fiction collections. Christine Perkins, Jackson Cty. Lib. Svcs., OR
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Just Bad! Feb. 27 2011
I picked up this book with much anticipation having enjoyed King's non-fiction work (I'm also a librarian, a bibliophile, and love books about books) but was truly disappointed. The characters are completely one dimensional and uninteresting, and the plot (which seemed good in the beginning) was boring and contrived. The ending was unsatisfying and it definitely felt as if King got bored himself and opted for the "Bob Newhart"-ending. I was really disappointed in this novel and will definitely not be reading "Domino" - stick with King's non-fiction work (may I recommend Brunelleschi's Dome?) and you'll be happy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a wonderful book Aug. 16 2003
I agree with the above review by Mark Fantino, but was able to stomach the ending more readily than was he. However, it does stretch the suspension of disbelief. The majority of the book is wonderful: both it and Domino (also by Ross King) turn around the elusive faces of reality and are both entertaining, profound and thought-provoking. I look forward to more fiction from Mr. King.
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3.0 out of 5 stars In need to great revision July 2 2003
A fine tale too long told. Unfortunate that the editors at Penguin Books did not require King to reduce the text by another 40-60%. I have no doubt that King has a tremendous grasp of the politics of the 17th century, but he need not try to squeeze everything he knows into one novel. His characterizations are poor except for two major characters. He cites the greed and manipulations of political and eclesiacticl princes, but offers no personality traits; just his comdemdation. I struggled to finish the work. King could offer a revised and greatly reduced volume without losing anything except words.
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3.0 out of 5 stars About the Great Fire� June 24 2003
By A Customer
I enjoyed what I read, but ran out of time, so I scanned the rest. But if you're put off by the historical "error" regarding the Great Fire of London in a previous review, as I was, consider this: The Great Fire of London in 1666 started in a baker's shop in Pudding Lane and reached the London Bridge. But the bridge itself was mostly untouched because of gaps on the bridge from a previous fire. It is quite believable that, in 1700, one could sit in a bookshop on the bridge that had been unaffected by the fire.
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3.0 out of 5 stars At least it managed to catch my attention March 29 2003
This reminds me of those mystery stories having endings that spill out everything leaving you mildly insulted and exasperated. You'll start asking yourself why you bothered to plough through those chapters that go on and on about the history of events, people and things.
But a clever ploy; style seems to rule over substance here.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Wish I'd paid more attention to the reviews March 24 2003
By A Customer
I was actually enjoying this book until I reached the end. Then I was mad that I'd spent time reading it. The ending just does not fit the build up, and is a major let down.
There appeared to be excellent research into the the historical time period. The swiftly changing political structure was presented in a manner that fit the story and provided the reader a framework to understand how certain books were seen as dangerous, politically threatening or valuable assets. However, the mysterious quest that the "hero" goes on ends up being laughable. It seemed to be used more for the author to demonstrate his understanding of the political structure of the times.
I would recommned "The Name of the Rose" instead of this book. It is a far superior read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I Finished It! March 10 2003
Tedious going in alot of places. More conversation would have made a better book for those not as knowledgeable about ancient texts as Mr King. The ending is really hard to get through. I found the dialogue there unbelievable. Maybe I missed something, but whatever happened to Emilia, who thought she was pregnant? That certainly looked promising. You really can't compare it to "The Instance of the Fingerpost" and "Club Dumas"'which I think are much better books. I've bought "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" and hope it is better.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Fast Start but Nowhere To Go Feb. 28 2003
After several years of reading others' reviews, this is the first time I've written one myself. The question is, Why this one? I've read a lot better books in the last few years. King's recent non-fiction works have been weel received so I found this fiction piece at a decent price and figured I'd try it before going to the others. Mistake. I'm hoping the non-fiction works are an improvement. Mr. King needs some work as a fiction author.
I'm forced to agree with an earlier reviewer (Mr. Fantino); this book starts fine. The first 100 pages are intriguing, but not overpoweringly so in contrast to Eco's "The Name of the Rose", to which it is unfortunately compared. When there is dialogue, it is in a contemporary 21st century speaking style, not one comparable to how 17th century characters would actually have spoken.
The first 340 pages move along nicely, but the final 20 pages are a mess. The ending comes from nowhere; it's as if King couldn't figure out how to finish it and made it up the day the manuscript was due at the publishers. the last two chapters really weaken what otherwise is a decent tale of intrigue and double-dealing.
It's not bad, but it could have been a whole lot better.
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