One doesn’t need to be a buff of the Bard to love this well-told tale.

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SHAKESPEARE AND THE LOST COLONY

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.

Pub Date: July 31, 2012

ISBN: 9781468157178

Page Count: 422

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2012

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Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

THE EVENING AND THE MORNING

Murder, sex, and unholy ambition threaten to overwhelm the glimmers of light in Dark Ages England in this prequel to The Pillars of the Earth (1989).

A Viking raid in 997 C.E. kills Edgar’s one true love, Sungifu, and he vows never to love another—but come on, he’s only 18. The young man is a talented builder who has strong personal values. Weighing the consequences of helping a slave escape, he muses, “Perhaps there were principles more important than the rule of law.” Meanwhile, Lady Ragna is a beautiful French noblewoman who comes to Shiring, marries the local ealdorman, Wilwulf, and starts a family. Much of the action takes place in Dreng’s Ferry, a tiny hamlet with “half a dozen houses and a church.” Dreng is a venal, vicious ferryman who hurls his slave’s newborn child into a river and is only one of several characters whose death readers will eagerly root for. Bishop Wynstan lusts to become an archbishop and will crush anyone who stands in his way. He clashes with Ragna as she announces she is lord of the Vale of Outhen. “Wait!” he says to the people, “Are you going to be ruled by a mere woman?” (Wynstan’s fate is delicious.) Aldred is a kindly monk who harbors an unrequited love for Edgar, who in turn loves Ragna but knows it’s hopeless: Although widowed after Wilwulf’s sudden death, she remains above Edgar’s station. There are plenty of other colorful people in this richly told, complex story: slaves, rapists, fornicators, nobles, murderers, kind and decent people, and men of the cloth with “Whore’s Leprosy.” The plot at its core, though, is boy meets girl—OK, Edgar meets Ragna—and a whole lot of trouble stands in the way of their happiness. They are attractive and sympathetic protagonists, and more’s the pity they’re stuck in the 11th century. Readers may guess the ending well before Page 900—yes, it’s that long—but Follett is a powerful storyteller who will hold their attention anyway.

Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-595498-9

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A hilarious jaunt into the wilderness of women’s friendship and the triumph of outrageous dreams.

MISS BENSON'S BEETLE

In 1914, when Margery Benson was 10 years old, her father showed her a book of magical creatures, none more fantastic than the golden beetle of New Caledonia. Thirty-six years later, jobless and alone, she’s determined to have the adventure of her life and find that beetle.

After stealing a co-worker’s new boots in a fit of despair, and consequently losing her job as a teacher of domestic science, Margery finds herself eager to get out of England before the police catch up to her. In addition to packing up her apartment and collecting an impressive array of bug-hunting equipment, she places an advertisement in the newspaper for a French-speaking assistant, an ad to which only four people apply. After a series of curious events, she finds herself aboard the RMS Orion with one Enid Pretty, a shockingly blond woman in a pink suit who never seems to stop talking, much to Margery's dismay. But once Margery succumbs to weeks of seasickness, Enid turns out to be the best friend Margery never knew she needed. Thus, two women too often discounted, one as an old maid and the other as a floozy, begin a very funny journey, indeed. But Margery and Enid are being followed by two shadows: Enid’s mysterious, possibly criminal past and Mr. Mundic, a man Margery rejected as her assistant. A survivor of the Second World War POW camps in Burma, Mr. Mundic is frequently waylaid on his mission to reunite with Margery by bouts of beriberi and violent, hallucinatory memories. Once in the northern wilds of New Caledonia, Margery, Enid, Mr. Mundic, and the golden beetle are set on a collision course teeming with screwball comedic scenes deftly choreographed by Joyce.

A hilarious jaunt into the wilderness of women’s friendship and the triumph of outrageous dreams.

Pub Date: yesterday

ISBN: 978-0-593-23095-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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