Haunt Me Still

by: Jennifer Lee Carrell

Shakespeare, Scotland, the Scottish play, witchcraft, a blasted heath, a castle in the highlands - what's not to love?

Really, the only thing I can say about scholar-novelist Carrell's otherwise wonderfully enthralling murder mystery is that it gets confusing!

Was it just me, I wondered? Oh, how I love Amazon reviews at moments like this! I turned to my fellow reviewers to learn whether I had simply read the book too late at night, or if, indeed, Carrell had not quite lived up to her first outing, Interred with their Bones, another Shakespeare-based novel involving scholar-sleuth, Kate Stanley.

Nope. It seems I was in good company:

" Because the result, while as erudite and intricate a puzzle as its predecessor, is a convoluted mess"
"Great concept, poor execution. More of a frustration than an enjoyment."
"The action is also dizzying, though there are so many characters and so much trickery involved that the action does not always advance the story as it should."
"I have to admit that I raced through this book to see what happened next, a conglomeration that would do Dan Brown proud, but now that the book is finished I don't remember all that much about the characters, just a pell-mell rush of supernatural events, rapid travel between continents, and the death of a rather appealing supporting character."

A perfect place to pick up the review - "I don't remember all that much about the characters." Or for that matter, the plot.

As noted, this is a wonderful idea in search of a little more time to write the story.

As near as I can recall, the story falls out this way: Kate Stanley has been asked to direct "the Scottish play" (among theatre folk, you can't say the name, or much else about the play,  at least in rehearsal space, for fear of jinxing the show and bringing all manner of bad luck down on the performers' heads. Supposedly, this goes all the way back to Shakespeare's day when the boy originally slated to play "Lady M" died under suspicious circumstances.

Let me interrupt myself here to say that one of the fine things about this book is Carrell's deep knowledge of Shakespeare and history and theatre in general. The little tidbits she shares throughout the story are truly fascinating, and worth plowing through some of the less readable aspects of the book to glean.

At any rate, once in the Highland castle where the performance is to take place, and warned "not to go up the hill alone," our heroine is plunged into a mysterious moonlit pagan ceremony culminating in a ghastly death, a kidnapping, the reappearance of an old lover, and a globe-trotting chase  in an effort to buy off the kidnappers with the original version of Macbeth, which, it seems, features a real ceremonial magic spell the kidnappers hope to recreate.

It turns out that Shakespeare, Will, may have been not only a spy in the employ of Elizabeth I, but the beneficiary of black magic, who gained his literary skills as a result of spelling rather than, er, spelling. Ok, bad pun. And his Lady M may have been based upon a real Scottish noblewoman who also happened to be a witch.

As one reader/reviewer pointed out, Kate's adventure seems to have taken place in a very short period of time, during which period she traveled back and forth to the United States on a private jet, and never seems to have eaten, slept, brushed her teeth or changed her clothes. But I was confused enough that this seemingly important detail sailed right by me.

It does seem evident that literary infliction of pain aside, Dan Brown has done the fiction world a greater harm: now all our mystery heroes and heroines must dash madly about the world - financed by seemingly bottomless pockets and supplied with endless amounts of energy - on convoluted quests involving historical figures about whom we know too little to catch the nuances as they fly by, or which are so preposterous as to get lost among a welter of other details.

Just because I love Shakespeare (Macbeth in particular), Scotland, witchery, and a good spooky old castle in the Highlands, I'll give this novel a B+, but don't expect to turn pages too quickly. You may find yourself having to re-read a passage here and there to figure out who's who and what's what.

As we fully expect that Carrell will be back with another installment of Kate Stanley's adventures (the romance with her and her sometime lover is left uncertain), we can only hope that her editors give her time to write the next book more slowly and carefully, giving both her talent and her readers what they each deserve.


Popular Posts