on 14 May 2008
I can't add any more than has already been said . . . but I have to get it off my chest!!! I'm just so relieved that I'm not alone in my utter bafflement in this book! I have pretty disparate reading habits and have enjoyed the good, bad and plain ugly. However I've never encountered a book like this - as if someone threw a (large) handful of corny plot devices, boring diversions, colourless characters and Shakespeare plays into the air and published the resulting mess just as it landed. If you don't want to lose money, time and your patience, steer clear.
Entertaining and fun, this is a perfect beach or commute read. Combining elements of the (still popular) Da Vinci Code, with a chase for the missing manuscript of a lost Shakespeare play as well as pursuing the eternal mystery of who Shakespeare actually was, this keeps the pages turning.
Kate Stanley is a Harvard graduate directing Hamlet at the Globe when her ex-doctoral supervisor appears and kick-starts the mystery-chase before being killed like Hamlet's father. Kate drops everything to pursue the clues which take her to the Harvard library, the Folger Shakespeare library, New Mexico, and back to London followed by a maniac killer with a Shakespearean bent as well as an attractive but enigmatic protector. Everyone she talks to gets murdered in a Shakespearean manner which is completely ludicrous but good fun, and the couple manage to outwit both Scotland Yard and the FBI...
Carrell knows her Shakespeare and has created an entertaining story that takes in conspiracy theories of authorship, and has amusing swipes at the cut-throat world of academia. As a Renaissance literature student (though not a Shakespearean) I loved all the literary play, but am not sure how penetrable it would be to someone not particularly familiar with people like Mary Sidney, Francis Bacon, the earl of Oxford etc. And I suspect that the `mystery' side of the plot is so far-fetched that most of the pleasure comes from the untangling of linguistic clues.
So while I found this an enjoyable - if throwaway - read, it does require you to turn off your brain-cells as far as the murder-chase is concerned. The identities of the `baddies' is so badly derivative that I kept thinking it couldn't be true but sadly it was. Also the (lack of) motivation for all these theatrical murders is ludicrous. So overall I think this is a 3.5* read which has some indulgent pleasures and a lot of silliness - but I still had fun reading it.
on 17 June 2008
I bought this at the same time as The Medici Secret to cover the long return journey I undertook recently. I do this journey twice a year and read 2 thrillers for each one so you're not looking at an expert in thrillers!
The book is well written and has been been well researched though there are some disconcerting errors along the way and I don't mean tampering with historical truths, I mean mistakes - for example Pharaoh's daughter is credited with hiding Moses rather than retrieving him. However, it does mostly fit in with historical fact and Carrell does explain where she has departed from historical veracity so is rather pleasing from that point of view. I found the time shifts a little irritating and I'm not sure how necessary they really are finally since the protagonists in the present capture all of the details from the past but it might be that Carrell was concerned about having to fill in a lot of detail and thought flash backs the best way to do it.
It is convoluted. I was pretty certain I'd figured out the plot and then got a nasty shock but I pretty much ended up where I'd started which reinforces my idea that where murderers are concerned go with your initial impression! There are a lot of deaths, the characters are sometimes incredibly stupid and don't take enough care when investigating things and everyone they meet seems to be able to pull the most amazing strings. They do catch a lot of planes, they have inexhaustible supplies of money and the plot from that point of view is implausible but having said that some of the characters were quite personable and the story rattles along at a good pace even if it does seem to throw up an awful lot of red herrings and twists and turns.
I enjoyed the book. I wouldn't cry if Carrell never writes another book but I found this one entertaining and it stopped me from being bored on what is a very long and tedious journey.
on 5 May 2013
Was very excited when I found what I thought was a gem of a book in the Oxfam book shop in Glasgow; this book. Loving Shakespeare and murder and mysteries I thought this was my dream book. Wow, I was wrong. It's soooooo boring and to be honest I haven't a clue anymore as to what's going on. I have been reading it whilst so disinterested that I haven't been paying attention. I was excited at first, but after about the first chapter my excitement diminished. I wish someone would write a hell of a good Shakespeare murder mystery book that made sense and had an actual point, unlike this one. Can't finish it. Back to the charity shop it goes, or I may make some laminated bookmarks from the pages. That's pretty much all the book is good for. J.L.Carrell might be a good writer, but this book has no evidence of that whatsoever.
Happy reading! (With another book besides this one!)
As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, 'There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so'.
Well, I think this is a stinker.
As others have pointed out, there is more than a whiff of Dan Brown about this. Take this for starters:
'Rosalind Howard, flamboyantly eccentric Harvard Professor of Shakespeare...' is not a million miles removed from Brown's way of introducing Langdon in each book.
At least Brown's work motors along and creates a relatively exciting story. It may be a bit of a ramshackle vehicle, but it gets you from invented A to spurious B in an enjoyable fashion. Carrell's novel is more like a bad driver trying to execute a three-point turn. Forward a bit, then back, then off in another direction, then back...
I opened the pages looking forward to a 'find-the-McGuffin' feast. An early death - tick - a clue - tick. All went well soon after the curtain went up.
But what's this? They're looking for clues, yet Shakespearean scholars don't realise that a quote reads 'glitters' when Shakespeare wrote 'glisters'? What's going on here?
From then on, the book was full of flaws. Try this one. Late on in the book, faced with a cave opening, Kate says 'I'd never seen a cave opening before'. On the page opposite, she states that she has some experience of caving. Sorry. Kate? Were you blindfolded when you went caving?
I'm also not sure that the chronology adds up. Roz is descibed as being in her 50s, but if my maths is right, she must be closer to 70, at least.
If you haven't read it, don't bother. Here's all you need to know. The person who must be the killer isn't - or are they - or, no they're not because it's two other people - oh, no, it's yet two more people. Thank goodness, they're dead - oh no, they're not - or maybe they are.
It's closer to a pantomime than Brown or Shakespeare; you're ready to shout 'Behind You'. (Truthfully, there's more of a temptation to let the killer(s) get on with their task and put us out of Kate's misery.)
I've also realised that there is a follow-up, Shakespeare's Curse. To misquote:
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forebeare
To digg the dust enclosed heare;
Curst be the man that rewrites this tome,
And saved be he that spares my bones
on 15 June 2014
I seldom give up on a book before I have finished it, but usually battle pluckily on to the end no matter how awful, boring or badly written it may be. However, and it's a big however, this was so mind-numbingly dreadful that I only managed to read about half of it before I lost the will to live, threw it in the bag for the charity shop and then went for a lie down in a darkened room with a cup of tea and a Hobnob; it really does plumb new depths undreamt of in even Dan Brown's philosophy.
The writing is worse than pedestrian, it is cringe-makingly awful. So dire is the writing, lacking, as it does, any finesse, elegance or apparent appreciation of the beauty, flow and mellifluousness of the English language, that I actually felt embarrassed for the so-called author until I remembered that she'd been paid handsomely for turning out something so rank and gross in nature, and then I just felt angry.
No cliche is left unsaid and no hackneyed plot device is left unused. The dialogue is stilted, trite, incredibly dated and twee and so poorly constructed that I found myself skipping over vast chunks in order to try and ease the misery; it didn't work.
The characters are all of a piece with the plotting and writing, being a collection of outdated, ineptly drawn and perfectly irritating stereotypes who all seem to have been acquired from Jeffrey Archer's Wholesale Department Store for the Lazy Writer.
The single most heinous crime committed by the writer of this book though, and which made me toss it aside with equal parts disgust and dismay, was the continued misquoting of a Shakespeare line which was really quite integral to the plot (such as it is) at a certain point. For someone to offer a novel about Shakespeare, use Shakespeare's work and life as plot drivers but to then not be absolutely meticulous with regards to accuracy when quoting his work is utterly unforgivable.
I think what I'm trying to say is that I didn't like this book very much.
As has been pointed out by other reviewers, this is an enormous pity and waste of an opportunity as the life of Shakespeare promises much from a mystery/thriller point of view, but if you are looking for a crime novel which is well written and tightly plotted with credible characters, pacy dialogue and a very real sense of time and place, then skip over this and go straight to a Michael Connelly book - now he does know how to write.
Update: I have recently seen this book and the sequel for sale in Poundland. I really think that that is a more eloquent and apposite review than I could ever hope to give.
on 30 November 2010
Originally published in the US as "Interred with Their Bones" where it should have remained buried, it has been exhumed for an unsuspecting and gullible public as The Shakespeare Secret. If only it had remained as one.
This book was sealed in a transparent wrapper when I bought it in a Philippines bookstore and therefore I could only judge it by its back cover blurb. Still, we make mistakes and mine became self evident after a quick perusal of the first paragraph. I laudably groaned. I always finish a book, and I can say that this was completed in record time in an effort to limit the pain. It was akin to suffering toothache with the offending molar finally extracted on the last page, resulting in utmost joy and relief.
Whilst the author clearly knows her academia, her writing skills, prose and delivery is chronically amateur and whoever suggested she could get away with it deserves to take an equal portion of blame. It beggars belief that a respected publisher would print such drivel, and unpublished writers of quality must be crying in their beer.
The author should have stuck with the premise and ditched the preposterous adventure and shallow characters, for as a puzzle on a missing manuscript with controversial political undertones of its era, its origins, and as an entertaining perspective on Shakespeare the man, or consortium of men, together with the many theories which question his very existence as playwright, then it could have been a reasonable and accessible introduction to Shakespeare and his works. Such a move may have given some credence to the author and established her as reputable writer. Unfortunately she has achieved neither. Our heroine Kate is not only the director of play at London's Globe theatre, but is endowed with fearlessness which would put an SAS soldier to shame. She manages to keep her head when all around are losing theirs, and leaves a trail of murder and mayhem in her wake. The comparisons with the Da Vince Code are obvious, but love or loath him, at least Dan Brown can string a coherent sentence together. At various stages we have a matriarchal millionaire, a thespian English lord of the stage, a disillusioned Harvard professor, a shady James Bond hero, a Native American Shakespearian archivist, an eccentric elderly professor and incumbent butlers, manservants and maids who all (bar one) get bumped off in various parts of the globe. The "globe" in this case being not only the theatre.
The author's notes at the end were the most interesting element of the book, and it was difficult to reconcile her obvious knowledge and research with the sheer claptrap embracing it. Shakespeare must be turning in his grave. Which, incidentally, our Kate literally dug up with surprising ease. I can't remember if she was disguised as a boy at the time, or which passport she was using, or which t-shirt and denims she was wearing, because for all her problems, she still finds time to inform the reader of her ever changing attire. But by then you're past caring. Oh dear!
It's a great book if you want to learn how not to write one, and a fine example of how the publishing world can promote utter tosh disguised as a magnum opus. Go ahead and read it. It will be an achievement and you'll experience great joy afterwards. You can't put a price on that surely!
This falls into the light holiday reading category. I've given it three stars because I did enjoy it and it does rattle along at a decent pace.
The similarities between this and the Da Vinci Code are obvious. It's very much of the same genre. I read the Da Vinci Code before all the hype and did quite enjoy that too - even though it does not quite live up to the hype that followed. But if you enjoy Dan Brown, you will probably enjoy this - albeit that it bashes the English literary establishment rather than the Catholic church.
But, it is a load of old codswallop for all that! It's very dangerous to write a work of fiction that is more than half based on genuine literary issues. What's more, the author has not exactly been drowning himself in that research. There are more holes in his research (and quotations) than you can shake a stick (or a spear?) at. Does that matter? I'm not sure. It's a decent story, but don't for one moment think that some of the arguments he puts forward are proven fact or even decent theory. Then again, you could argue that Shakespeare was guilty of something similar in that Richard III or Macbeth bears little resemblance to the real events (to name but two examples).
The Da Vinci Code divides opinion - if you don't like it, then step away from this book - it will only annoy you. And if you do read it, don't think that anything that is argued as fact is the case. But as a fun, light read, it's enjoyable for all that.
on 18 February 2014
An outlandishly-contrived, constantly-splintering and confused attempt at producing a thriller based upon the tortured imaginings of an investigator delving into the 'historical mystery’ of Shakespeare’s real identity, whilst also attempting to establish the authorship/location of some of his so-called ‘lost works.’ It’s rare that I give up on a book but I almost did so with this giddy, nonsensical tripe. Meaningless sub-plots were united in an unholy alliance with unbelievable, one-dimensional characters with little sense being made throughout. The so-called final secret (s?) about Shakespeare was ultimately neither relevant nor satisfying. The author must have spent considerable time in ‘cobbling together’ a vast reservoir of material - but it ultimately comes across as a mishmash of tosh. It was a relief to finish and I regret expending the time to read it. J L Carrell has utilised too many ideas from other people (almost admitted within her ‘Author’s Note’), and so her ‘ideas-collective’ has spoiled a potentially-interesting thriller. This author needs to appreciate that an initially sound storyline can often be grossly overworked. Any seriousness was utterly lost and only a caricature of a thriller remained. Shakespeare himself might have written this work as one of his comedies. On this offering, I wouldn’t read her work again.
on 3 September 2012
Sometimes I give up on books half way through, and sometimes I battle to the end. On this occasion I did finish the book, but really felt that I had wasted a good few hours of my life in doing so. It's hard to explain why it's so bad - in theory the plot is intriguing and exciting, yet it didn't hang together well and seemed like the writing was too formulaic. The author is clearly an expert on Shakepeare and his work, but not too skilled at writing thrillers - it is a commendable attempt but really doesn't work in this case. Whilst the Da Vinci Code is pure nonsense, ii is nevertheless a thrilling page turner, whereas reading the Shakespeare Secret just made me feel weary. I also found the flashbacks to Elizabethan England quite confusing and I couldn't keep up with all the characters from this period. I found that I didn't really care who the villain was, which is not a good sign. A huge amount of work went into this book, and I feel bad to slate it, but the author's agent/editor should have been a little cruel to be kind and saved the readers from ploughing through quite a bit of drivel.