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Review – “The Shakespeare Murders” by Sharon Gupta

The Shakespeare Murders by Sharon Gupta is a historical fiction set in 17th century England when the Master himself was on the rise of his writing career. Since the book doesn’t have a proper protagonist per se, it is difficult to zero in on a particular character and term it as lead, but for the sake of reviewing, and also since the story follows the following characters closely and extensively, I’ll consider Shakespeare and a knight named Geoffrey Drake as the lead and continue.

Its 1602 and the Bard, Shakespeare is at the peak of his career. Churning out masterpieces like Hamlet, A merchant in Venice, Comedy of errors, etc., the play-maker has swept the entire competition for the company he works, The Chamberlain’s Men. When things are looking north for the company, all of a sudden tragedy strikes, and their actors start falling dead just like that. With all the surviving actors tensed and scared for their lives, the Lord Chamberlain decides to bring in a famous young knight, Geoffrey Drake in hopes of using his detective skills to solve the matter. Of course, the Bard and the lead actor Richard Burbage know all about Drake from the very beginning, the others are kept in dark to help the knight get some insider information regarding the situation. But it doesn’t last long and Drake’s identity is revealed after an attack on the Bard at the Lord Chamberlain’s ball.
How will the knight function now that his identity and purpose are out in the open? Will it make the murderer cautious, or will he still try to take out members of the Chamberlain’s Men? Who is it that will profit from the falling of these men, or rather Shakespeare in particular? Is it the Bard’s mistress’s husband who is jealous, or some professional rival hell-bent on taking revenge of their downfall? Will the conspirator be caught before he/they are able to target their next victim

After a long hiatus that I have had to take from reading foreign authors due to my review line up of books by Indian authors, this particular book came in like a breath of fresh air for my internationally starved lungs. The language was good and it kept in mind the era in which the story has been set, there were also a few editing errors, which could be overlooked. In accordance with the image of the Master himself, the chapters are divided as acts and it’s parts. Also, as happens in a play, although there are a lot of supporting characters, who have small but at times significant roles, only a handful can be said to be the mains, namely Shakespeare and Drake, followed closely by Richard Burbage, a physically absent but theoretically present Marie, Downtown, Beeston and a couple more. A feature that the author brings about in her book is the use of tenses to tell subplots, while the narrative follows a third person, present tense, there are chapters where the characters muse upon the happenings that have happened in the recent past, and breaking the monotony of the narrative. This mostly is put into use when some major revelation is about to be done, or some incident that has a direct impact on the main plot. One thing that surely disappointed me was the characterization, it was lost on me, I couldn’t connect with the characters for long and happened to forget their names often during the read and had to go back to check their introduction. Even the few prominent ones, Shakespeare, Drake, and Richard Burbage, didn’t have much to go for their character value, although they had impactful and strong roles. It may be that plays have such things, for I haven’t read any plays to date. So, I don’t know if it’s okay or not. What I know is that I enjoyed reading this page-turner.
To end my review, I must confess that, being the impatient soul that I am, I happened to look at the last page of the book after like 1/5th of the read, and somehow got the inkling of the big reveal. But, you guys don’t do that, because the control does lie in the hands of the narrator until the end.
I will definitely suggest this book to all the thriller/suspense/Shakespeare lovers (though there is nothing much of Shakespearean about it), and those who want to read Indian authors but their heart is set only on international appeal.

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