The novel would benefit from tightening to reduce its hefty number of point-of-view characters. When the narration zeroes in on the main characters, including several chapters from Hopkins’s perspective, the plot picks up speed. The authors admirably connect the disparate dots—how does a “dark sonnet” shed light on a secret society from the 1500s and Britain’s history of anti-minority rancor?
An array of well-drawn suspects keeps the mystery thrumming. While the characterization is strong, Dunn’s mastery of “a singular conjunction of skills”—he’s expert in everything from Hopkins’s poetry and the Arabic language to electrical wiring and martial arts— strains believability. The sonnet itself appears only as a hard-to-read handwritten facsimile, making it difficult to follow the line-by-line academic parsing of its meaning. Still, Dark Sonnet is an entertaining ride in the vein of the best historical conspiracy puzzle-thrillers, and its smart characters even playfully acknowledge the assumptions of the genre, when one wonders aloud why the poet resorted to an elaborate ruse when dying and desperate to convey a secret: “Couldn’t Hopkins have sent a letter to some trusted soul”? Fans of such mysteries will be glad he didn’t.
Takeaway: This Oxford-set puzzle thriller explores secret societies and prejudices past and present.
Great for fans of: Liam Fialkov’s The Newton Code, Matthew Pearl.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A