When I heard about “The DaVinci Code, only with Shakespeare” I was intrigued and told myself I’d hunt down this Interred With Their Bones novel and see for myself if it was any good. So I was pleased when the folks at Dutton sent me a copy for review.
There’s a couple of things that worry me about a description like “The DaVinci Code, only with Shakespeare.” The DaVinci Code, in my opinion, was only popular because of its attack on the Catholic Church. It wasn’t necessarily a good thriller on its own. If you’re a publisher, you’re cool with that kind of buzz. Whatever gets your audience reading, right? But if you’re a writer, you might be aiming a little higher than that.
I didn’t love DaVinci Code, honestly. Maybe I’m not that big a fan of the thriller genre. They all seem to have a certain pattern to them, namely the race between the narrator and the killer to uncover the secret first. Along the way the narrator runs into puzzles, solves them through some seeming act of brilliance, and then walks straight into some new character who says “It’s about time, I’ve been waiting for you for days.”
Secondly is the problem of Shakespeare, which really applies to any book that tries to have a central theme like that. Namely, are you writing for existing fans of that subject, or trying to entice new ones? The answer dictates how your book goes. I fancy myself a Shakespeare geek, although who are we kidding, I am no academic. Anybody who is in the business of studying Shakespeare (such as the author, or the main character) should know more about the subject than me, I’m thinking. But a casual reader who is looking for the next DaVinci Code and knows nothing about Shakespeare? Would naturally need some clues.
On this point, I’m torn, because I don’t really know what the answer is. I’ll offer some examples, and let you decide. It’s a thriller, so we know there’s a killer on the loose. There’s always a killer on the loose. And you know what? If your killer has a thing for Shakespeare, and you’re female, and he calls you Lavinia? If you’ve read Titus, then you’ll be quaking in your boots because you know exactly what that implies. But if you haven’t read Titus, you have no idea. So the author (via the killer) lays it out for you, leaving a piece of the Titus script at the scene, with the important stage direction underlined (I won’t spoil it). I’m cool with that. Titus isn’t the most well known play, and it’s not like she spends pages explaining who Hamlet is.
But later the narrator needs some knowledge of Cardenio, the holy grail of Shakespeare’s lost plays. And it’s disappointing how little she has. She does not make the connection when she spots Cervantes among her clues. She knows of the existence of The Double Falsehood, but then makes herself a note to look it up on the net because she’s unfamiliar with it. I mean, come on, I’ve read the silly thing. And she’s completely surprised at a reference to Theobald’s three copies of the original, even though it’s the sort of thing that makes it to the first paragraph of any story on the subject. So here’s an instance where the casual reader certainly needs a bit of a boost in the facts department, but I found it a little unbelievable that the narrator did not have that sort of knowledge about such an important subject. <shrug>
Having said that, I’m still enough of a Shakespeare geek that I’ll take all the references I can get. When one character turns to the narrator and says “Sleep now,” or something like that, my brain immediately jumped to both “Sleep no more, Macbeth hath murdered sleep!” and “To sleep, perchance to dream, aye there’s the rub” and I was wondering which quote the narrator would come back with. And I get these cool shivers down my spine early in the book when they are actually acting out a bit of the play. I just love it when somebody delivers that first quote, it’s like the start of something beautiful every time.
So, to sum up, I’m tolerating the thriller bits to get to the Shakespeare bits, and hoping that she doesn’t dumb down those parts so much that I can’t take it anymore. This is where DaVinci Code had the advantage, because I did not have the same knowledge of the background material that I do here, and I could spend more time saying “Oh, that’s interesting, didn’t know that.” With this book I’m sure to spend much more time saying things like “Yes yes, we knew that, get on with it!” Sorry if that was a lame review, but I’m not one to shove my opinions on other people. I say what I like and why I like it. Right now I’m not reading it to figure out the mystery, I’m reading it for the Shakespeare bits. And enjoying it very much.