February 2022

The Book of the Most Precious Substance

By Sara Gran
Review by
Readers will ache for Lily and Abel and envy what they once had. This is just one part of what makes Sara Gran’s erotically charged thriller so worth reading.
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In Sara Gran’s sexy and captivating thriller The Book of the Most Precious Substance, a rare books dealer embarks on an epic hunt for a shadowy tome that could change the trajectory of her life.

A few years ago, Lily Albrecht had it all: a once-in-a-lifetime love and a thriving writing career. Now Lily’s brilliant soul mate, Abel, has a neurodegenerative disease and can no longer communicate, move or even eat on his own. He is like a locked box on a high shelf, one she can guard but never reach.

Lily loves and advocates for her husband fiercely but is worn down by financial pressure, anxiety and grief for the incredible life they once shared. For years she’s been their sole breadwinner. Now her promising writing career has dissolved, and she’s caught between dedication, loneliness and frustration as she sells off their precious collection of books.

By the time she’s asked by Shyman, a fellow books dealer, to find an elusive 17th-century book about the occult and “sex magic,” Lily’s life has shrunk into a joyless routine of work, worry and care. The high six-figure finder’s fee for this magical tome—“the rarest, most sought after book in the entire bibliography of the occult”—could stabilize her finances and give her the means to pursue more treatment for Abel. However, Lily finds it odd that so little information is available about such a legendary book.

Then Shyman dies suddenly and violently, and with no middle man taking a cut, her commission becomes potentially even more lucrative. Lucas, a friend and colleague, becomes her partner in the quest, and their collaboration presents its own potential rewards and temptations.

Lily is a sympathetic yet formidable figure. She’s dedicated but still human, alternating between numbness and mourning, loyalty and long-sublimated desire. Gran is uniquely talented at bringing such complex feelings to life. Her writing is effective, economical and moving, and while Lily’s hunt propels the story forward, it is Gran’s frequently exquisite prose that demands investment from its audience.

Readers will ache for Lily and Abel and envy what they once had. Brief but evocative moments reveal not just Lily’s lack but also her desire, and possibly what’s to come. These scenes are just one small part of what makes Gran’s thoughtful and erotically charged thriller so well worth reading.

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