|Sarah Smith: Chasing Shakespeares|
Washington Square Press (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0743464834
Sarah Smith, Ph.D. in English from Harvard, writes a historic mystery based upon a literary shell game. This entertaining and fun read knits together quirky characters, authentic dialogue, great information and stellar research. Not even a whiff of crumbling scholarly reportage mars this enthralling fact and fiction novel.
The corpse in this book died of natural causes centuries ago, proving that memorable mysteries need not rely on vividly described violence. Instead, Smith asks a controversial question, "Who wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare?" and builds the novel upon the simmering real-life argument between Oxfordians and Stratfordians.
Oxfordians believe Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare. The society hosts web pages and conventions, writes articles and avidly seeks clues to prove their theory. Stratfordians believe the non-nobleman, Bill of Stratford-on-Avon, authored everything with his name on it. Smith follows the clues and examines identity and ownership, while delivering the mystery wrapped in a modern-day love story. The political and social wrangling of Elizabethan nobility adds to this literary and highly literate puzzle.
Her title, Chasing Shakespeares, adeptly describes her book on several levels, beginning with the Oxfordian controversy. Smith takes readers through the proofs and the background via Joe Roper, a graduate student, assigned to catalogue the Kellogg Collection of Elizabethan books and manuscripts. She adds another layer as Joe subconsciously chases love and works to find his own identity. The two women in his life journey toward self-discovery, too.
Joe searches for original documents upon which he'll base his thesis and dreams of a happily-ever-after life in Stratfordian academic circles. The Kellogg Collection, basically a monumental stack of forgeries, gives up one artifact that promises to shake up the literary landscape. Joe heads for London, but with each step, he uncovers more troubling information that leads him to rethink his beliefs. Wealthy and beautiful Posey Gould, a die-hard Oxfordian, complicates things as Joe's traveling companion.
Better than Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code), Smith uses facts and truth to create a captivating scavenger hunt through the streets of modern and Elizabethan London. As we follow Joe into famous British libraries, we come to believe Smith's contention: "God is a librarian…literature is holy, and God has a special dispensation for it, angels to guard its making and its preservation."
Additionally, Smith's web site offers footnotes to verify her facts. She links to Oxfordian websites and includes other weird and interesting Shakespeare information.
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