Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Interred With Their Bones, et. al.

OK, so I always lag about five years behind the best-seller list. Then there's my aversion to paying hard-cover prices for any work of fiction published in the last century. And my belief that if I am supposed to read a book, it will speak to me as I walk past the section where it's shelved. And no I haven't yet read "The Da Vinci Code," either, although I have seen the movie (thanks to a $7.50 special at Wal-Mart; what in the world was all the fuss about?).

But I did pick up a paperback copy of Jennifer Lee Carrell's 2007 "Interred With Their Bones" (sometimes with some justification described as "The Da Vinci Code" with Shakespeare instead of Jesus) Sunday and got hooked. So badly hooked I awoke at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday wondering where that copy of "Cardenio," the holy grail of Shakespeare's lost plays, not to mention the letter telling us who really wrote all that stuff, was going to turn up. So I got up at 5 a.m. and finished it off.

Turned out to be a good investment at $15 --- and no, paperbacks aren't cheap any more either.

Carrell is a literary scholar turned mystery writer (this was her first), but don't be discouraged if you're not literary or particularly interested in Shakespeare. There are enough twists and turns in the plot, rapid shifts of scene and wrenching jolts as hero turns villain, then turns again, to give a guy whiplash. And better yet, it is completely implausible. But if you are even slightly interested in Shakespeare, all the lightly touched upon references to controversies surrounding his life and works will be icing on the cake of a good solid thriller.

I just took a look at my three volumes of "The Complete Oxford Shakespeare" on the shelf where they've been gathering dust for several years, and am seriously thinking ....


Funny you should mention Shakespeare. Wait, I mentioned Shakespeare. In that serendipitous way things have of tumbling into each other, Will Shakespeare also figured large in the book I finished off just before Carrell's thriller: Adam Nicholson's "Quarrel With The King."

I kind of look upon Adam as family, since he's the third generation of Nicholsons I've read. His grandparents were Harold Nicholson, a superlative diarist and correspondent, and Vita Sackville-West, writer and lover of not only the irritating Violet Trefusis but also of the more widely acclaimed, but substantially more talented (and depressed) Virginia Woolf. Vita also was one of world's great gardeners (Google Sissinghurst for more about that).

Their son, Nigel Nicholson, probably is best known for "Portrait of a Marriage," recounting his parents' extraordinary and enduring relationship, although he edited his parents' papers, wrote convincingly about many other topics and finished it off with the brief and autobiographical "Long Life," published in 1998.

Adam's done well for himself, too. His "God's Secretaries," a fascinating account of how the King James version of the Bible came to be, is just superb. The most recent of his books I'd read is over there at left and down a ways in the sidebar, "Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides."

"Quarrel With the King," elegantly written, focuses on the rise (and fall) of the Earls of Pembroke (and Montgomery), the Herberts --- Shakespeare, of course, performed with his players at their great Wiltshire house Wilton and the First Folio of his works was dedicated to Philip and William Herbert, "the most Noble and incomparable paire of Brethren."

"Quarrel with the King," however, has less to do with Shakespeare and more to do with the end of feudal communalism that the Pembrokes, their circle and the people of their estates symbolized as told through the rise and decline of the Arcadian dream.

I enjoyed this greatly, but it may be a bit much for anyone not devoted to English history.


Finally, among the books I hauled from here to there this week was Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd's and Christopher Simon Sykes' massive 2000 "Great Houses of England and Wales."

This is one of those huge coffee table books that, had it been available in 1327, would have been used rather than a "great mattress" (or table, depending upon whom one believes) to suffocate Edward II before that red-hot iron rod was driven up his, well ... no need to go into all of that here.

So after finishing "Interred With Their Bones," one scene (and one murder) of which is set at today's Wilton House, I decided to check the the "Wilton" entry in "Great Houses" and there, occupying a substantial part of a page, was a photograph of the lifesize statue of Will Shakespeare that is a centerpiece of the Wilton entrance hall and from which an unfortunate housekeeper in "Interred With Their Bones" is left hanging by her neck.

Serendipity once again.

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