Death’s Autograph by Marianne Macdonald

St. Martin’s (first), 1997

A satisfying but flawed first novel. Dido Hoare is nearly run off the road one night, then her antiquarian bookshop is robbed and searched, then her apartment is surreptitiously rifled. Meanwhile, Dido’s ne’er-do-well ex-husband Davey turns up, ostensibly looking for work. The object of the searches and of Davey’s attentions is a book in which a familiar poem was scribbled centuries ago, possibly by the author himself: Shakespeare. Despite all this, Death’s Autograph is slow to engage the reader. Dido is a merely competent narrator blessed with a good story to tell; the more interesting character is her father Barnabas, a clever retired professor who is largely responsible for the novel’s unexpected happy ending. Dido is oddly unemotional about the men in her life, except for her father. Are we to deduce that she’s so tied to Barnabas that she can’t feel strongly about anyone else? That question invites reflection, but other questions nag; for example, why do the villains kill Davey without first securing the book? Nevertheless, I was intrigued — I’ll be back to read the sequel. (Beth Thoenen)

Originally published in Issue # 152 – January/February 1998

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