Monday, November 19, 2007

Review : Interred With Their Bones

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.


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.


Dove said...

Oh, I just realised you were talking about the book The Shakesepeare Secret (the Australian Title) but you didn't give anything away so all is good. I haven't started to read it yet due to still reading Jane Eyre but it is next on the list. I also never read The DaVinci Code due to all the hype surrounding it, it just put me off. Though I have now seen the DVD. I too picked up The Shakespeare Secret for the Shakespeare side as opposed to the thriller side and am looking forward to it. I would not say I am a Shakespeare geek as such just that I have a soft spot for him.

David Blixt said...

I must confess to being a tad hurt. You blogged about being excited about THE MASTER OF VERONA in the summer of 2006. Since then? Nary a peep. And I hang out here.

However, I'm interested in this novel as it's garnering all kinds of attention despite tepid reviews. Reports have it being very surface-level, and I'll be curious to see if it suffers structurally from the DaVinci disease: constant cliff-hangers. Try reading DaVinci Code aloud and you'll break into hysterics. The end of each chapters needs a musical "Duh duh duh!" Is this the same?

Duane said...

Hi David,

To be fair, what I said was "This is interesting, I wish I had time to read it." But your point is well taken, I did give the impression that I would try to read it. For that, my apologies. I almost never have time for fiction (I am working through Interred at a rate of maybe 5-10 pages a day). If a copy hadn't shown up at my door it's a safe bet I would have forgotten about it a year from now as well. I "tell myself to hunt down a copy" of lots of things.

I think you're right, though, about DaVinci disease. But, tell me, what exactly is a *good* thriller? Don't they all suffer from much the same cliches?

David Blixt said...

I enjoyed the first Bourne book, though the next two were pretty terrible. At the reccommendation of my editor, I'm about to start Ken Follett's EYE OF THE NEEDLE. VERTICAL RUN was pretty good. And are the James Bond books thrillers? All these would fall into my list of "good" thrillers.

Duane said...

Points well taken. I guess it's just not my thing. If I'm reading fiction then I'm typically more of a speculative / scifi type. I only ever got through DaVinci (and Harry Potter) because they were on audiobook(*), and so I'd be able to keep up with the hallway conversations at work :). Even then I go through them on the ipod at "faster" speed so I'll be done quicker.

(*) Any chance that Master of Verona is going audiobook / podcast in the future? That'd certainly jump it up to the top of my list. I have much more listening time than I do old fashioned book reading time.

Oh, yeah - I went back through Interred With Their Bones last night looking for the "Dundundun" chapter breaks, and can fairly say that, at least in the first half of the book, most of the chapters are *not* that way. Several certainly are - a few chapter endings, in fact, are an almost identical shot of someone jumping in a car and yelling "Drive! Fast! Now!" But I suppose you need a fair share of those, otherwise it's more just plain mystery than thriller.

David Blixt said...

Sadly no audiobook at present.

I was actually hoping you would pick it up and let me know what you thought of my blend of history and Shakespeare's plays. But I have a compromise for you. Pretty soon is going to be selling a short story spin-off of THE MASTER OF VERONA. It's only a few pages long, and takes place at Lucentio's wedding in Padua, which we know Lord Capulet crashed (wearing a mask)as a young man. All the Paduans are there - Benedick, Bellario, Gremio, Grumio, Kate, Petruchio, Hortensio, Baptista, etc.

If that gooses you, pick up MV. Or else drop me a note and we'll chat about the connections I've drawn between the plays. You might like how I've connected Shrew, R&J, Much Ado, M4M, 2Gents, & Merchant.

Have a happy holiday!

Historia said...

I LOVED this novel. Yes its about Shakespeare, but I didnt pick up on all the quotes because I am not a fan of his plays. High school took care of that. I am however very interested in the authorship debate. So here is my review of this book (which I paid full price for).

And here's MY shakesepeare blog.

And I am adding your blog to my blogroll. Hope thats ok.



ren girl said...

This looks interesting enough, all though I was not really a fan of Da Vinci Code, mostly because of, as david blixt said, the "duh nuh nuh" problem.

On that note though I'd really reccomened Master of Verona...there's no Da Vinci disease to be found & I thought it was enormously engaging.

(If you're still reading this, Mr Blixt, is there a sequel in the works? I'd love to read one.)

David Blixt said...

Ren Girl,

I'm so glad you enjoyed it - and that I wasn't too over-dramatic.

Yes, there is a sequel on the way. More than one, in fact. VOICE OF THE FALCONER will be in bookstores Fall 2008, with FORTUNE'S FOOL hopefully coming out the following year.

There's also a short story on Amazon right now called VARNISHED FACES. 36 pages long, it follows Antony Capulletto to a wedding in Padua.

Duane, sorry about hijacking your review. Cheerio!

版主支持你 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.