SherChristispeare, "the greatest sleuth during Renaissance England" and Pancho, "the most loyal of sidekicks during Renaissance England" have two cases to solve in Jeffery S. Williams' delightfully clever spoof of the Immortal Bard's beloved "Hamlet" and "Romeo and Juliet."
In Book One, SherChristispeare travels to Denmark to find out what manner of conspiracy led to the death of Hamlet and other notables. After using his advanced investigative skills and witty turns of phrase--while fending off siren spies and other tasty evils--to bring order to the chaos behind the crimes, our sleuth heads for Verona where Romeo, Juliet and others have recently been murdered in a manner must curious, if not foul. As they unearth twisted clues and sharp retorts, SherChristispeare and Pancho discover (more than once) that their lives are in jeopardy, and frankly they don't see as much humor in it as readers will espy.
No knowledge of the Shakespeare plays is required to enjoy this hilarious novel. However, readers familiar with "Hamlet" and "Romeo and Juliet" will find Williams' humor a rich stew seasoned with non-stop references and tangled-up lines. Suffice it to say, while all's well that end's well in "Who's to Blame?," SherChristispeare's evidence points everyone--including the reader--in unforeseen directions, most of which are complicated, elaborate, and somewhat different than the original author of the plays anticipated.
The greatest strength of this novel arises out of dialogue which is clever, crafted by an adept author with a deep knowledge of his source material, and that is almost pure burlesque in style and tone. This dialogue is most effective in scenes where it introduces characters or otherwise advances the plot:
"Noble Ambassador," I said and bowed, "I am SherChristispeare court--"
He waved me off. "I know who you are."
I straightened to my full measure, "I am here to ask you about--"
"The Queen, the King, the Prince, and a soul named Laertes--all blood-stained and most still, most secret, and most grave." His eyes twinkled at his pun."
"So they were all at supper, ay?" I said.
"Food for worms."
"Never mind. What did you learn?"
The Ambassador recounted the story of we he had heard from the voice of Horatio--rife with carnal, bloody and unnatural acts, of accidental judgments, casual slaughters, and deaths put on by cunning and forced abuses.
"Tragical-comical. Historical-ironical," I said.
Williams doubles the strength of his parody by making SherChristispeare and Pancho aware that they are punning, borrowing lines, and creating highly crafted Shakespearian-style wit. In dueling conversations between the sleuth and his sidekick, points are lost for lack of originality and theft from the Bard himself.
The novel sags ever so slightly in a few places where the plot is moved onto the back burner, giving way to long strings of one-liners which are essentially bouts of verbal one-upmanship. The plot, while inventive is overtly farcical and serves in many ways more as a scaffold for the jokes than as a strong storyline.
That said, "Who's to Blame?" belongs on the top shelf of comedy with Richard Armour's "Twisted Tales from Shakespeare" and our other favorite parodies. Lovers of words and wit will admire the care with which this sleuthing jest was created, wherein wordplay's the game to bring an able sleuth acclaim.