“A saucy Halloween treat” – The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran

IMG_2022-10-30-190041We all know how the stories go, don’t we? Anything that promises to fulfil all of your Earthly etcetera’s will come with a sting in the tail. We all know this. And yet, the tantalising prospect (“what… all of my Earthly etcetera’s…?”) is enough to power the most rational of minds by that initial prospect of doubt. And so it is with Lily Albrecht, the narrator of Sara Gran’s latest novel, The Book of the Most Precious Substance.

Lily is a dealer in rare books who, once upon a time, was a successful novelist – only for her career in writing to be dealt a seeming death blow by the early-onset Alzheimer’s of her husband, Abel, who requires round the clock care. In between juggling that care (alongside live-in nurse Awe) and doing her best to keep them afloat with the sale of rare books, Lily quietly says goodbye to any pretence of a literary career.

It is while attending a book fair in New York that a colleague, Shyman, first mentions the eponymous book – it’s a grimoire, a book of ancient sex magic that promises to give the bearer anything they want upon the completion of several distinct acts. Lily is interested – only for Shyman to wind up dead within 24 hours. Just a mugging, mind you. Nothing to do with the mysterious book. Of course.

Lily loops in with Lucas, another book dealer she has always respected and maybe just maybe there is a bit of a frisson between them and it isn’t like she would be cheating on her husband, what with her husband being away with the fairies, and so the two of them decide to embark on a little adventure – can we find a copy of the book and can we find out who would be willing to part with upward of a million dollars or more for it?

And so, with the high end book dealing world not being all that big of a world, the two of them pull together a list of the most likeliest, in order to ascertain who Shyman’s buyer might have been – and they travel here there and pretty much everywhere (California, Munich, Paris) on the trail of the book – with various other people being dispatched along the way and a fair old bit of what Rik Mayall may have once called rumpy pumpy whenever it proves convenient.

If your tolerance for spookiness is low, it may be that certain elements of the book will test your credulity – and it’s fair to say that it’s a cartoonier book than, say, Come Closer, Gran’s tremendous second novel – but, for all that, it’s magnificently entertaining and will surely keep you flicking the pages as you speed to the book’s climax (all puns intended).

Any Cop?: Provided you’re not put off by a fair amount of the old in and out, then The Book of the Most Precious Substance is just the kind of book you should be treating yourself to for a saucy Halloween treat.


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