Onyx reviews: Interred
With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
It would be interesting to know whether there were discussions in the
marketing department at Dutton about whether or not to title Jennifer Lee
Carrell's first book The Shakespeare Code. If so, cooler heads prevailed, and
the book was published as Interred With Their Bones, a quote from Shakespeare.
However, there can be no doubt where Carrell's inspiration came from and what
book was her model.
There are more than a few noteworthy similarities between Carrell's fiction
debut and Dan Brown's megathriller. The protagonist is a woman instead of a man.
The subject of her quest is a playwright instead of a painter/scientist. The
writing is more literary than thriller—more in the style of The Historian than
The Da Vinci Code.
It seems a promising premise. The new Globe Theater in London burns on the
anniversary of the fire that consumed its namesake nearly four centuries
earlier. However, in the 2004 fire, a Shakespeare scholar who has just promised
to let her estranged friend Kate Stanley in on a mystery, dies. Not from the
fire, as it turns out, but from poison, administered in a decidedly
At the time of the fire, Kate is directing a renowned classical actor in
Hamlet at the Globe, the opportunity of a lifetime. She is also a Shakespeare
scholar, the author of a thesis on the subject of the occult Shakespeare, which
she always hastens to explain means the study of hidden messages in the plays
and poems, not pertaining to the supernatural.
The moment the fire breaks out, Kate's life is upended. She races from one
clue to the next with someone in hot pursuit—from London to Washington, to
Westminster Abbey and Shakespeare's grave in Stratford upon Avon, down to Spain and eventually
to Utah. Just about everywhere she goes,
someone ends up dead. Anyone familiar with The Da Vinci Code should have fairly
strong suspicions about who the bad guys are.
Kate is a sympathetic heroine, though she seems oddly untouched by the mayhem
going on around her. She has previous personal or professional relationships
with some of the victims, but isn't incapacitated by these losses. She's also
ferociously determined about not giving up her quest, even though it seems
certain others will die if she continues. The secondary characters are less well
drawn, a situation complicated by the fact that each of them must be portrayed
as a potential suspect at some point during the story.
The ultimate goal of Kate's quest is the lost manuscript of Shakespeare's
last play, The History of Cardenio. The play, supposedly inspired by the story
of Cardenio from Don Quixote, was performed once or twice in the bard's time and
then vanished from sight, except for a fourth-rate eighteenth-century
adaptation. Evidence indicates that the manuscript was last seen in the most
unlikely of places—the American West.
Threaded through the pursuit is a running debate over Shakespeare's identity.
How did an unassuming man tap into such power, over and over again? Where did he
gain access to the classic stories that inspired him? Outside of a few very
basic details, very little is really known about the man credited with writing
the most famous plays in English literary history. The seven years before he
emerged on the scene as a successful actor, director and playwright are known as
his "lost years." Even his birth date is based on an
eighteenth-century historian's error. Beyond his literary output, virtually no
documents from or to the author exist. The book is constructed, of course, in
five acts, with intervening sections set in Shakespeare's time. These brief
interludes serve to add a real-life perspective to the obscure details of the
There are numerous theories about who really wrote the plays, sonnets and
poems attribute to the Bard of Avon, some supported by the historical record,
some firmly held by ardent believers despite strong evidence to the contrary.
Did Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Oxford, or Queen Elizabeth
or some chimerical combination of several people collude to carry out one of
the great literary frauds of all time? Some of Kate's adversaries fear their pet
theories will be imperiled by her discoveries.
Carrell goes to heroic lengths to keep the Shakespeare motif going. Each
murder is modeled after a scene out of one of the plays. It's a nice literary
conceit but highly improbable. It's hard to imagine a ruthless killer risking detection when killing someone on the spur of the
Kate's path leads her from one Shakespeare expert to the next, from one
original folio of the plays to another. Whenever Kate is in a tight spot, Carrell
conjures up a deus ex machina escape. Tunnels and hidden passages materialize in
the most unlikely places.
After a while, the author seems unable to keep up the fast pace she's trying
to emulate, and it begins to feel like she's simply putting her characters
through the paces. Important clues are hidden or misinterpreted to manipulate
tension. Ultimately the book is a disappointment because the concept seems like
it had so much potential, and the first 150 pages are compelling.
As she reveals in her afterward, many of the details, theories and
inspirations Carrell uses are real. This makes the book worthwhile for anyone
interested in learning more about one of the great literary minds who ever
existed—or whoever it was that created the plays that form that backbone of our
literary canon. Just don't expect to be kept at the edge of your seat.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2007. All rights reserved.