Kate Stanley, Jennifer Lee Carrell’s dauntless Shakespearean scholar-turned- director, is catapulted into a new production of Macbeth, showcasing a fabled collection of objects relating both to the play and the historical Scottish king for whom it is named.Still the Bard’s witch-haunted play is famously cursed, its reputation for malevolence so strong that many actors refuse to quote or even name the play aloud unless on stage. Are they right or is it just a bit of superstition?
As rehearsals begin at the foot of Scotland’s Dunsinnan Hill, a perfect location for such a play, it doesn’t take long for the curse to stir. But is it really a curse?A trench atop Dunsinnan Hill is found filled with blood, and a severed human thumb turns up among the props. Kate begins sleepwalking, waking early one morning alone atop the hill, her hands smeared with blood.
She has no memory of how she got there, but later that day a local woman is found dead on the hill in circumstances that suggest not just ritual murder but ancient pagan sacrifice. With the police more focused on Kate as a suspect than as a possible future victim, she and Ben find themselves in a desperate race to discover a lost version of Macbeth, said to contain rituals of witchcraft aimed at conjuring demonic forces to gain forbidden knowledge.
|What I liked:|
I could sum it up this way: I liked the second novel far better because there was less Dan Brown-ish antics, more Shakespeare. Macbeth is one of my favourite plays and indeed it is a bit creepy so it worked really fine -especially when combined with the creepiness, the Scottish castles and the Edinburgh festival. I appreciated the location far more than the jumps across continents from the previous novel.
Kate Stanley, our protagonist gets sucked into a bizarre twist of events that ends up with blood on her hands…literally. She must find the lost manuscript of Macbeth which might include secret rituals of old pagan witchcraft in order to save an innocent teenage girl’s life. This manuscript was supposed to have been used in early shows of Macbeth where the mere reading of it supposedly brought real unearthly demons to the stage. Kate feels a little more human in this sequel; looking at her as a woman who essentially throws herself into a mystery as a “rebound relationship” is an interesting concept and one that works considering how intellectual Kate is supposed to be. Anyway I was really relieved that she wasn’t ‘an item’ with Ben in this book and the fact that the author gave him another casual lover was only too natural.
Indeed the best parts of this novel were, in my opinion, the interludes around Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan polymath and occultist. The parallels between theatre and the occult were interesting: the performance as ritual; players summoning and conjuring the semblance of gods, Kings and heroes from the past; the dangerous nature of the Renaissance stage. I did love the explanation of the possible inspirations for Shakespeare’s story – with the Lady of Arran and the Samhain festival – such ancient, multi-faceted backgrounds are always a welcome addition. Once again you can tell Carrell knows her stuff.Let me also tell you that the warning about crackpot academics was entertaining…particularly to someone who writes essays and has to avoid dangers of using personal websites in research.
|What I didn’t like|
As a thriller, this book did not work: I cared little for Kate or Lady Nairn’s problems so the plot held no thrill. There was no twist to surprise me. The most absurd point occurred almost exactly half the way through. Out of thin air and a propos of nothing, Lady Nairn mentions that she has an evil niece, Carrie Douglas. Ta-dah! The bunny is out of the hat and jumping around happily! Enjoy the sight while you still can, boys and girls!
Later the same good lady hands over an iPod containing a digital copy of a lost performance ofMacbeth. There’s no explanation of how she got it and how it was registered. And it just happens to have a vital clue in it. Ehem…right. Paint me curious or rather I should say: “Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
I liked this one far better than the first part.No, it wasn’t a perfect novel, far from it but, overall, the Macbeth outweighed the predictability for me. If you like Shakespeare and find the superstitions of the theatre fascinating this book might be right for you.