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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.


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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
3.0 out of 5 stars Fast Start but Nowhere To Go Feb. 28 2003
Format:Paperback
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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3.0 out of 5 stars Great Story - Ridiculous Ending Jan. 18 2003
Format:Paperback
I love historical fiction, particularly when, as in Ross King's case, a mystery is involved. Ex-Libris was a satisfying, and rewarding read for at least 300 of it's 392 pages (Paperback Edition). I have read many books involving English history, still, I feel Ex-Libris painted a picture more vividly of life in the mid-1600's.

Without giving anything away, or not much anyway, Ex-Libris is a story set in the disastrous years of and after English Reformation. There are two stories entwined together in the story, they run parallel to eachother but are decades apart. Both stories center in the search for a missing text, one of greater value than the reader can imagine at first.

I enjoyed the introspective pace of the narrator Isaac Inchbold. His accounts of life on London Bridge were enlightening, and convincingly authentic, the sites and smells and cricks and creeks are all lushly delivered. Fans of historical fiction will lap these details up.
I wonder, however, if Ross King prefers narration to dialogue, for I felt the story was lacking in the latter, and when it did occur, it sounded versed in the same tongue as narration, every character exactly as eloquent as the next. I probably wouldn't mention such an incongruity, or even write a review for this book at all if it hadn't been for the way the book ends.
Ex-Libris is recommended in the same breath, with almost all reviewers, with the works of Umberto Eco, Arturo Perez-Reverte, and Iain Pears, which is good company no doubt. But I felt some of the comparisons are too obvious. Our hero (or, anti-hero, in Mr. Inchbold's defense he is clumsy and club-footed) spends a waning chapter on deciphering a cryptic jumble of letters he finds, and, while he does solve it's peculiar riddle, it hardly seems important.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Historical thriller minus the thrill Nov. 22 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
There is a popular kind of "mystery" novel in which the story becomes increasingly complex, with more characters, more possibilities, and more paranoid plots introduced until the reader gets swamped with them all. Then in the last few pages, the secret is unlocked, and something that could not possibly have been guessed is revealed as the key. Ex Libris repeats this formula in 17th-century England, and I found it as exasperating as the versions that take place in present-day California.
There are some nice historical touches in the book, although the narrator is clearly unrealistic in a number of respects in order to help the modern reader through the 17th century. The problem is that the plot moves slowly, the protagonist wanders around aimlessly for much of the book, and the digressions and explanations dilute any excitement one might have felt. The ending is simply absurd, and the reader feels cheated, as events that were never mentioned previously turn out to be key to explaining the mystery.
It was an excellent idea to attempt to import the modern noir thriller to this historical setting, but the pacing and plotting of the novel do not live up to the initial conception. I found that I had to force myself to finish the book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Great Story - Ridiculous Ending Oct. 6 2002
Format:Paperback
I love historical fiction, particularly when, as in Ross King's case, a mystery is involved. Ex-Libris was a satisfying, and rewarding read for at least 300 of it's 392 pages (Paperback Edition). I have read many books involving English history, still, I feel Ex-Libris painted a picture more vividly of life in the mid-1600's.
Without giving anything away, or not much anyway, Ex-Libris is a story set in the disastrous years of and after English Reformation. There are two stories entwined together in the story, they run parallel to eachother but are decades apart. Both stories center in the search for a missing text, one of greater value than the reader can imagine at first.
I enjoyed the introspective pace of the narrator Isaac Inchbold. His accounts of life on London Bridge were enlightening, and convincingly authentic, the sites and smells and cricks and creeks are all lushly delivered. Fans of historical fiction will lap these details up.
I wonder, however, if Ross King prefers narration to dialogue, for I felt the story was lacking in the latter, and when it did occur, it sounded versed in the same tongue as narration, every character exactly as eloquent as the next. I probably wouldn't mention such an incongruity, or even write a review for this book at all if it hadn't been for the way the book ends.
Ex-Libris is recommended in the same breath, with almost all reviewers, with the works of Umberto Eco, Arturo Perez-Reverte, and Iain Pears, which is good company no doubt. But I felt some of the comparisons are too obvious. Our hero (or, anti-hero, in Mr. Inchbold's defense he is clumsy and club-footed) spends a waning chapter on deciphering a cryptic jumble of letters he finds, and, while he does solve it's peculiar riddle, it hardly seems important.
Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Just Bad!
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. Read more
Published on Feb. 27 2011 by Miss Print
5.0 out of 5 stars a wonderful book
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. Read more
Published on Aug. 16 2003 by John Angel
3.0 out of 5 stars In need to great revision
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%. Read more
Published on July 1 2003 by rex v reynolds
3.0 out of 5 stars About the Great Fire�
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... Read more
Published on June 24 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars At least it managed to catch my attention
This reminds me of those mystery stories having endings that spill out everything leaving you mildly insulted and exasperated. Read more
Published on March 29 2003 by grandfathersclock
2.0 out of 5 stars Wish I'd paid more attention to the reviews
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. Read more
Published on March 24 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars I Finished It!
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. Read more
Published on March 9 2003 by Judith Noone
5.0 out of 5 stars Ross King shines!
This is a fabulous book! I absolutely loved it. Granted, it is not for everyone, as the content is more historical than fictional. Read more
Published on Dec 9 2002 by K. Newell
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Story, Ridiculous Ending
I love historical fiction, particularly when, as in Ross King's case, a mystery is involved. Ex-Libris was a satisfying, and rewarding read for at least 300 of it's 392 pages... Read more
Published on Oct. 6 2002 by M. Fantino
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