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HARVARD YARD
by William Martin
Warner Books, December 2004
720 pages
$7.99
ISBN: 0446614505


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Peter Fallon, a South Boston boy whose father was a bricklayer, enjoyed his years at Harvard, as much for what he learned as for the friends he had made. Calling on behalf of the Alumni Association, he contacts an old classmate, Ridley Royce who says he was about to contact Peter.

Peter, who had originally thought he would be a college professor, is a dealer in antiquarian books and documents. His old friend Ridley implies that he may be on to a good thing. Ridley is related to the Wedge family -- the illustrious Wedges, who trace their ancestry back to the legendary Isaac Wedge, one of John Harvard's first pupils at the school that would bear Harvard's name. Ridley wants to introduce Peter to a distant cousin, Dorothy, claiming that her term paper "started everything."

Dorothy's term paper on the Puritans makes reference to her ancestor, Isaac, and a play. But the old Puritans hated the theater and had laws against it. She had used an old diary of a minister, Thomas Shepard that she had discovered in her research. It made reference to the play that Shepard refers to as one brought from England by Wedge and Ridley wants Peter to investigate.

Peter is also in touch with an old girl friend, Evangeline Carrington, whom he has not heard from in several years. He is surprised when she tells him she is coming to Boston at the request of Ridley Royce. Peter doesn't know what's going on, but he thinks he and Evangeline made a good team in the past and they should investigate together. Then Peter is warned off by Dorothy's father who says his cousin in delusional and will distract Dorothy from her studies.

When Peter and Evangeline discover Ridley's body, they proceed to follow the clues and they make certain assumptions. Peter soon believes that there is an unpublished play of Shakespeare's hidden somewhere that was the object Isaac Wedge brought back with him. There are several other players involved in searching, including an unscrupulous book dealer, an Irish thug, and an assistant professor who is Dorothy's tutor.

The author alternates the story between present time and the past. Each alternating chapter further relates the story of the play and how it came to be in first John Harvard's, then Wedge's possession. As the historical chapters progress through the years, we learn the story of the Wedges and their devotion to Harvard, to their causes, family and making money. The story of the Wedges and their roles in important events in the country's development, through the Revolutionary War up to Vietnam and the various Wedges -- Harvard men all, -- is fascinating.

The present day story with Peter and all of the modern day members of the Wedge family is equally interesting, as Peter and his friends try to outwit the other who are also attempting to be the first to find the play.

The author, himself a graduate of Harvard, is noted for his big books, rich in historical detail. He has done it again with his solid research and writing skills in bringing the past to life for his readers. While there are many characters in both eras (thank you for the genealogical chart in the book!) and they are sometimes difficult to keep track of, they are all unforgettable in their own way. If you like mystery, history and a book that will give you something to think about, you can't go wrong with HARVARD YARD.

Reviewed by Lorraine Gelly, December 2004

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