Books: Shakespeare's Secret

>> Friday, December 30, 2005

I took two books with me on our recent trip to visit Wendi's parents in North Carolina: the previously chronicled A Northern Light, which I was perhaps three-fourths of the way through when we left, and Elise Broach's Shakespeare's Secret, which I've been meaning to read nigh onto forever. I had no chance to read at the in-laws', so it was with great pleasure that I settled in on the last night of our trip - a brief stopover in Asheville, one of our favorite vacation haunts - to dip into my books. I polished off A Northern Light and decided I'd get a head start on Shakespeare.

I ended up reading the entire book right there.

Shakespeare's Secret is a brisk, middle-grade mystery with a simple premise: a sixth-grade girl learns that the house her family has just moved into may be hiding a million-dollar diamond. That idea alone is worthy of a good kid lit mystery, but the diamond didn't belong to just anybody - it was a de Vere family heirloom - as in Edward de Vere, the man some scholars believe may be the real author behind the works commonly attributed to William Shakespeare.

The Shakespearean mystery is unimportant to the discovery of the diamond, making it feel a bit of a separate academic pursuit. Regardless, it was this part of the mystery that I thought was the strongest and most interesting, and it's a fabulous introduction to a few interesting characters from Elizabethan England. My biggest problem with the story was that none of the characters really had anything at stake; if the diamond went unfound, none of their lives would really be all that different.

Still, it's extraordinarily rare that I read a book in one sitting, which speaks well of Broach's fluid, easy style and swift, action-filled story. This book is often compared favorably to Chasing Vermeer. (It doesn't hurt that both have fabulous covers by Brett Helquist.) Frankly, I found Shakespeare's Secret to be superior.


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