Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jennifer Lee Carrell's "Interred With Their Bones" is a Winner

Having long been a sucker for novels that mine the theatrical vein. Jennifer Lee Carrell's new murder mystery cum adventure story, Interred With Their Bones , is a delightful addition to the world of historical-theatrical fiction. It takes you from the Bard's own times right through five hundred years of the Shakespearean authorship controversy.

The main character is an intrepid Elizabethan scholar, Kate Stanley, who is directing Hamlet at the new Globe Theatre in London. Fire at the Globe is nothing new, but the aftermath of this modern one includes the body of Kate's former teacher, who has been murdered using a method suspiciously similar to the one that killed Hamlet's father. A mysterious broach given to Kate by her mentor provides the main clue to follow and from there on it is a mind-bending globe-hopping journey of murder and manuscripts. As if the intricacies of the debate between the Baconians and the Oxfordians are not enough, Ms. Carrell has added a series of adroitly staged and complicated killings. In each the manner of dispatch is linked to other Shakespeare plays. Multiple suspects glimmer, fade, then glow again as the heroine travels to and through ancient and modern Shakespeare associated venues. Among the British settings are the New Globe, Westminster Abbey, The Holy Trinity Church, and Wilton House. In the United States you negotiate Harvard's Wilder Library, Washington DC's Folger Library, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Tombstone, AR and even a desert reproduction of the ancient castle of Elsinore. All are described with convincing detail and if you have been to most of them, as I have, the enjoyment is palpable.

Stylistically the novel resides in the domain of The Name of the Rose or The Da Vinci Code and it may come off as emotionally overwrought and too full of strained coincidence for some readers. For instance, the ease with which the main characters can obtain changed identity documents and slip across multiple international borders doesn't seem all that convincing in a post 9/11 era. On the other hand, as the heroine is searching for a Jacobean manuscript thought to be the long lost Cardenio by William Shakespeare, it seems fair that there should be echoes of Jacobean dramaturgy in the plot. And echoes there are! You encounter, multiple violent murders, deceptions piled on deceptions, secret passages, hidden caves, spooky crypts, and hooded assassins breathing heavily around shadowy corners.

One reviewer called the work basic "literary comfort food" because it was tasty and appealing as well as substantially filling. This comment seems to focus on the book's ability to mirror the appeal of Shakespeare's work itself. An average reader can enjoy the terror and excitement of the chase, while people with more literary expertise can press beyond into the academic details, the theatrical settings, and the many references to the Bard's plays. Ms. Carrell holds a PHD in English Literature from Harvard and clearly knows her field and can communicate it with gusto. Put this one on your Christmas list.

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