Young Danish lawyer Jon Campelli is hot property; after successfully defending a competition addict accused of fencing stolen property, Jon is asked to defend, Remer, a ruthless businessman. At that same time, Jon's estranged father is found dead in his Copenhagen antiquarian bookshop; Jon hasn't seen his father since he was sent away to a foster home after his mother committed suicide when Jon was just a boy.
In a hidden library in the basement of the bookstore his father's assistant, Svend, tells Jon about a secret society of lectors who meet there and have done for years. There are two types of lector: transmitters are people who are able, by reading a text aloud in a particular way, to enhance the experience of listeners, making what they hear more heightened, while receivers can sense what people are reading and by tuning into this, they can heighten the experience for a reader. Though he is initially skeptical, a brief demonstration persuades Jon that there is something in this but he doesn't see what he can do for the lectors; he's a lawyer with important business to attend to and he has no intention of becoming a bookseller just to keep this strange society happy.
At Jon's first meeting with his new client, the businessman tells Jon he knows someone who is interested in buying Libra di Luca and the next time he is in the shop, Jon asks the staff whether they know who the mystery buyer might be and whether he should consider selling. Moments later the shop comes under attack and after the terrifying incident Jon learns that it is not the first time. The staff believe that there may be a shadow organisation out to destroy the Bibliophile Society and get hold of the books in the Campelli collection, which are believed to be charged with the powers of the lectors. They believe that Jon, who they think shows signs of being a talented lector like his father, can help them find who is attacking them and safeguard the society and keep it secret.
A few chapters into "The Library of the Shadows", I was not sure I'd bother to finish it. I'd bought it believing it was crime fiction and while that could vaguely apply, it wouldn't tell the whole story. The basic premise of the book - that there are people who can influence others by their reading of a text or by heightening the sensations experienced by someone reading a text - sounded absurd to me (ever the realist) and so I couldn't see how I might possibly be able to complete over four hundred pages of such nonsense. "The Da Vinci Code" and novels like it just don't appeal to me and this seemed to be in a similar vein with talk of secret societies and mystical books with magical powers. However, I stuck with it and soon I became quite engaged with the story; so the premise might be ridiculous but at least it was being used in a very clever way. The fact that some people had this power meant that the story could take lots of twists and I found there was a lot to think about; which characters had been influenced by the work of a lector, which side were people really on, could any of them be working for both organisations, were there really two parallel organisations at all?
Perhaps if I'd had a better idea of what was in store I might have been less cynical about "The Library of Shadows". Unfortunately, as the story progressed the accounts of the abilities of the lectors became ever more sensational until the climax of the novel when they reached almost Biblical proportions and it seemed that the lectors could do anything, even create fire and flood. What had seemed like a crime novel with an interesting twist was really a novel about a battle between good and evil based on some kind of paranormal phenomenon.
My failure to connect with the characters took the shine off the story. The characters bored me. Jon Campelli was thoroughly unbelievable: I couldn't be persuaded that this ambitious young lawyer - who had, if you remember, been rejected by his father many years earlier - would be so easily convinced of the skills of the lectors and willing to risk his promising career for something so bizarre. Katharina, an assistant in the book store and a talented receiver, was a contradictory character; sometimes a bit feeble and irritating, at others suddenly empowered and strong. Of the minor characters in the two groups (receivers and transmitters) I had to keep reminding myself who was a transmitter and who a receiver and this became something of a chore. Finally there was the sinister Kortmann whose idea it is to try to unite the two groups; this reclusive wheelchair bound man was depicted as almost a pantomime villain.
Of course, as I've said, this is not my usual reading matter. For readers who do like this type of novel I should imagine there is much to enjoy. The story moves at a brisk pace and does build up to a very exciting (if unbelievable conclusion. The whole concept of lectorship provided plenty of opportunities for twists and bucket loads of intrigue.
I found "The Library of Shadows" ultimately quite disappointing. My favourite thing about it is theme of the importance of books and the obvious love of most of the characters for literature. This was conveyed quite strongly in parts but in the end the story hinged around the effect the reading of books could have and this was used in a sinister rather than a pleasurable way and this more than anything turned me against the characters.
Don't be persuaded that this is crime fiction; I'd say it has very specific appeal and would be enjoyed by people who enjoy tales of the paranormal and things like "The Da Vinci Code".
The debut novel from author Mikkel Birkegaard is the intriguingly titled 'The Library of Shadows'. Translated from Birkegaard's native Danish, the book can currently be purchased for £5.49 from Amazon.
The story revolves around 'Jon Campelli', an up and coming lawyer who's estranged father Luca dies in mysterious circumstances. Campelli reluctantly inherits the family bookshop 'Libri di Luca' in Copenhagen, but little does he know that there is more to the second-hand bookshop and the staff who work there than meets the eye.
As the story progresses Jon is drawn into the hidden world of the 'Lectors' - a secret society of people with the power to affect thoughts and feelings whilst reading. Upon discovering their secret, Jon's life is turned upside and he suddenly finds the bookshop and his new found friends to be in mortal danger.
The book started off well, and Luca's rather horrific death made for an exciting first chapter. Unfortunately, the standard of storytelling went downhill from this point onwards. It's one of those book where there are paragraphs which you have to read numerous times in order to understand the information the author is trying to convey. I'm not sure whether this is because something has been lost in translation, or because the book is generally not very well written! A good example of this occurs when one of the characters 'Katherina' is constantly referred to as dyslexic, when 'illiterate' would be the correct term.
I found it difficult to care about what happens to the characters due to the two dimensional manner in which they are written - it's as if the author spent too much time working on the over-complicated plot, and in the process forgot about giving personality to the main characters. The only character that I did like was Mehmet - the Turkish computer whizz who is basically the comic relief to a dull story. That said, Mehmet seems a little crow-barred in to the plot solely to help the characters escape from whatever situation they find themselves in.
I had high hopes for this book, but due to an overcomplicated and predictable plot it ended up being a big let-down - the only reason I finished the book was to find out what happened at the end, rather than the fact that I was enjoying it. On the whole the book doesn't provide the reader with enough information to visualise the abilities of the Lectors - which is ironic considering the story is about people who can enhance your reading experience!
I've heard that The Library of Shadows is being made into a film, and I certainly feel that the story would work better on the big screen.
*This review can also be found on waterstones.com under my real name *