By Sara Gran
Lily Albrecht first hears about THE BOOK OF THE MOST PRECIOUS SUBSTANCE from fellow book seller Shyman at a book sale in a community college gymnasium.
He tells her he has a customer offering six figures for it and he’s willing to pay a finder’s fee if she can find it.
That sounds attractive to Lily. She’s barely making ends meet selling books and supporting her once-brilliant husband who is suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder that has left him in a wheel chair needing a 24/7 caretaker.
But by the following morning, Shyman is dead following a mugging.
Lily and Lucas Markson, a regular customer of Lily’s and head of the rare books department of a big uptown university library, discuss Shyman’s death and his unidentified client. Lucas suggests that they combine their resources, identify the client, find the book and make some money. They tell themselves they will give a portion of the proceeds to Shyman’s family.
Lucas makes contact with a colleague in the book trade who specializes in extremely expensive rare books: Leo Singleton. Singleton has actually seen a copy of the book. He tells them that only three of the five original copies of the book, which dates to the early 1600s, now exist.
The book outlines a magic ritual of five steps. Each relates to a different bodily fluid matched by a symbol and a word. Whoever completes all five steps gets his or her heart’s desire. The fifth step, though, involves killing someone.
At the heart of this book is the question: What would you ask for if you could be granted anything you wanted?
Ironically, the people they meet who want the book are among the richest people in the world; people who seemingly could already get anything they want. But as tech giant Toby Gunn tells them, anyone who says they have enough is lying.
What begins as a way to get some money for Shyman’s family, relieve Lily of her financial burdens and allow Lucas to hang on to his gem of a New York apartment and lifestyle, gradually becomes a much more ambitious set of wants.
This is a sexy and sophisticated book. It’s a high-end scavenger hunt for a rare and powerful book whose promises can only be delivered at an extraordinarily high price. The descriptions of travel, lavish food and wine and luxury hotels is wonderful escapism during these pandemic times.
But as Singleton, who doesn’t care to seek the book himself, tells Lily and Lucas, “Magic works, but it’s an exercise in irony, sometimes a dangerous one. Be careful.”
This is a fun, fantastical romp through books, magic, sex and philosophy.
About the Author: Sara Gran (1971 – )
Echoing the life of her character Lilly Albrecht, Sara Gran worked in new ad used bookstores for years ad bought and resold books for income while she wrote.
Sara Gran has written scripts for the TNT show “Southland,” “Chance” and “Berlin Station” in addition to six novels. Her novel CLAIRE DEWITT AND THE CITY OF THE DEAD won the 2012 Macavity Award for Best Novel.
She is developing an adaptation of Corine May Botz’s novel NUTSHELL STUDIES OF UNEXPLAINED DEATH with director and producer Guillermo del Toro.
She lives in Marina Del Rey.