Suppose that a retired bank clerk from New Jersey has inherited a mass of valuable letters to his great-great-grandfather. Let's imagine this ancestor was a book-seller in Victorian London who had corresponded at length with the leading writers of his generation. To Dickens and Thackeray, Eliot and Trollope, Butler and Hardy, he put such questions as Why did you write? How do you write? From what sources did you get their characters and ideas? What do you see as the purpose or usefulness of illustrations to your novel? What do you think of the books of your peers and competitors?
An intriguing conceit, no? But John Hall brings it off convincingly in this series of contemporary letters (mostly emails) between Larry Dickerson, the bank worker, bent on getting as much money as he can from this stash, and Stephen Nicholls, the patient and helpful head of Christie's manuscript department in London. Nicholls leads Dickerson through the intricacies of the auction process but also helps hi