Modern-day and Shakespearean-era murders align in this mystery by Shakespeare scholar Wharton.
The story opens in 1616 with Shakespeare lying upon his deathbed as a hooded and cloaked visitor approaches his bedside, leaving the reader to guess at his/her identity. The author then flashes back 22 years, when a young man and future lord, William Herbert, witnesses an experiment: an attempt by an alchemist to create the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s here that Herbert learns of the clandestine Order of the Rose Cross and the suspiciously failed endeavor by the group to colonize the New World. Among those gathered in the laboratory is Herbert’s mother, who advises him that the Order’s secrecy is imperative. Years later, Shakespeare is called on by a powerful lord to spy upon Herbert. Soon after, Herbert hears the words “rose” and “cross” in the dialogue of one of Shakespeare’s plays and assumes Shakespeare has knowledge about the secret order, as well as the lost colony. Though Shakespeare is unwitting, his interest is piqued; he soon risks life and limb to solve the mystery, and the narrative shifts into a complex whodunit. Many scenes contain sumptuous descriptions and smart dialogue. Alternating with the Shakespeare tale is an equally intriguing mystery, this one set in the present day. Charles Morgan is a divorced, disengaged composition teacher at a private college. Lionel Bunce, who is Morgan’s faculty mentor, as well as a Shakespeare expert, reveals to Morgan that he is on the brink of solving a mystery of historic proportions involving Shakespeare and “issues of state,” but he needs just one more piece to complete the puzzle. He reveals that he’s dying and makes Morgan promise that he will complete his work. But Morgan discovers that solving a centuries-old mystery is a hazardous gig; a man claiming to be a co-worker of Bunce asks for access to his writings and books. Morgan realizes that there is indeed a treasure hidden somewhere in Bunce’s dusty documents and prized books. Morgan races to unravel the mystery as he runs for his life. The ending comes to a clever full circle. With perfect pacing, the story alternates between the two engaging plotlines, and readers will find themselves turning pages at full tilt. Deliciously multifaceted, the novel is carefully constructed with a cast of unique and well-crafted characters.
One doesn’t need to be a buff of the Bard to love this well-told tale.