It takes some courage for an author to write a book as though he were writing as William Shakespeare. Shakespeare, after all, is “widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language” (Wikipedia) and any attempts to write as him are surely to pale by comparison. Fortunately, author Bartholomew Daniels doesn’t try too hard to emulate the Bard’s writing, instead, he works to capture the voice of the era — the sounds and feel of 1500-1600’s England. In this, Daniels has done a remarkable job of writing in such a way as to remind us that this was some five hundred years ago, and yet managing to be readable to modern readers. A feat of no small measure!
Using a historical figure as a literary figure is nothing new, and Shakespeare, as eternally popular as he is, is certainly ripe for being a character. Using what little we actually know about the man, Daniels has woven a tight conspiracy mystery in which Wm Shakespeare becomes hesitantly, but fully, involved. Briefly, the son of the sponsor to Shakespeare’s company (The Lord Chamberlain’s Men) confesses to Shakespeare that he believes his father was murdered and asks Will to see if he can ferret out any proof. Shakespeare, knowing too well how important it is to maintain a sponsor for his company, agrees to investigate. His search leads him to a uncover multiple plots of rebellion and sedition and greed.
Bartholomew Daniels has done a good deal of work to maintain historical accuracy, sometimes to his own detriment. I couldn’t help but feel that at times we were given information simply because it was historically true, rather than because it was necessary to the story. And one large event, historically accurate, occurred at a different time. For those of us steeped too well in Shakespeare history, this moment felt ‘wrong,’ though it worked for the device of the story. (For those who might not know the history, I won’t spoil the story. In his acknowledgements, Daniels does admit that he took license with the history of the event to satisfy the needs of the book.)
The mystery in the book is well plotted and full of intrigue. It kept me anxious to read on to see where it was going. However, I have to admit that I saw the end coming from the moment its hint was first suggested. I was still excited to get there, but there was no surprise for me in the ‘revelation’ presented.
We don’t spend a lot time getting information about Shakespeare’s daily life, but when we do, again we get perhaps too much. While the time-line works well for the death of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, we seem to dwell on the moment. How much time do we spend (two chapters?) listening to Shakespeare say, over and over, how much he was a failure as a father? I really wanted to move on from the event. If the character actually spent time mourning the loss of his son, it might have been a moment forgiven, but instead, it was all about himself and his own failures. A passing notice that the event occurred and the funeral attended would have worked just as well and not brought the story to a halt.
But even with these few (perceived) flaws, this was a delightful story and action-packed mystery. The door has been left open for more Wm Shakespeare: Detective novels, and I’ll gladly spend time with the Bard on another adventure.
Looking for a good book? Shakespeare as a detective, as told by Bartholomew Daniels, is well written and a delight to read.
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Rotten at the Heart
author: Bartholomew Daniels
publisher: Exhibit A
paperback, 336 pages