- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Avalon (November 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786704829
- ISBN-13: 978-0786704828
- Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,241,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Shakespearean Whodunnits Paperback – November, 1997
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From Kirkus Reviews
Twenty-five almost new stories (the oldest, Susan B. Kelly's sly ``Much Ado About Something,'' dates back to 1994) exposing the felonious underside of Shakespeare's plays from Henry VI to The Winter's Tale. Editor Ashley (The Chronicles of the Round Table, p. 1422, etc.) has enlisted a cadre of contributors more likely to be familiar to sf/fantasy buffs than to mystery-lovers. Mary Reed and Eric Mayer give Richard III a self-excusing soliloquy on Bosworth Field; Stephen Baxter provides a criminal epilogue to A Midsummer Night's Dream; Patricia McKillip offers an informal inquest into the deaths of Romeo and Juliet; Kim Newman speculates on why the world of Twelfth Night is so maddened; Darrell Schweitzer asks who killed Falstaff. Mostly, however, the stories propose unlikely culprits for the murder plots of Richard II (Margaret Frazer), Hamlet (Steve Lockley), Othello (Louise Cooper), Macbeth (Edward D. Hoch), and As You Like It (F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre). There's no shortage of ingenuity, but (except for Kelly's ebullient tale) also not much sense of fun or (except for Martin Edwards's chilling epilogue to King Lear) much conviction in establishing the malefactors' motivations. Rosemary Aitken's suave, dense postlude, ``The Collaborator,'' shows how much easier it is to succeed at the historical mystery when you're not taking characters carefully fashioned for one purpose by the greatest English dramatist and twisting them to another. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Top customer reviews
These 25 stories were penned by authors who, for the most part, reside in the UK and, to the extent that they're known on the American side of the pond, have some reputation in the fantasy and science fiction fields (although many of these writers are well-known in England for their mystery novels). The most recognizable names are likely to be Stephen Baxter, Kim Newman, Rosemary Aitken, Lousie Cooper, and Patricia McKillip.
Naturally, with such a large number of stories and variety of authors, the quality is going to vary wildly. "A Shadow That Dies", a treatment of "Richard III" by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, anchors the low end in its almost incomprehensible ramblings, but is mercifully brief. Such brevity is a virtue shared by Kim Newman's "This is Illyria, Lady", a poorly conceived and indulgent meditation on "Twelfth Night". Other efforts are somewhat more interesting, but the short story form is not really kind to the mystery genre, which demands a greater length for its full development. Hence, the extent of the investigations found in many of these stories consists of the arduous task of walking across town to talk to one witness or looking under a bush to find a clue. This lack of any real intricacy mars John Aquino's "When the Dead Rise Up" (dealing with "King John"), Darrell Schweitzer's "The Death of Falstaff" (inspired by "Henry V"), Peter Garratt's "Buried Fortune" (from "Timon of Athens"), and Tom Holt's "Cinna the Poet" (centered on the aftermath of "Julius Caesar").
Fortunately, other stories are more successful. Keith Taylor in "The Banished Men" delivers a well-plotted depiction of the outlaw escapades of Valentine from "Two Gentlemen of Verona". This effort has vivid characters and a historically accurate Italian setting, along with a lovely flavor to the dialogue, and is indeed gripping enough to serve as a springboard into a full-blown novel. Meanwhile, Puck, of all characters, proves an able detective who skillfully employs deductive reasoning in Stephen Baxter's "A Midsummer Eclipse", a follow-up on the events of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Margaret Frazer's "The Death of Kings" (from "Richard II") ingeniously creates a mystery where none was apparent in the original play, and provides its own chilling solution. Humor, albeit with a morbid twist at the end, plays a role in Susan Kelly's epistolary "Much Ado About Something" (which I hardly need say is based on "Much Ado About Nothing"), as it does in the pun-filled "Murder As You Like It", in which F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre considers an alternate fate for Duke Frederick from "As You Like It".
Also of particular note is Cherith Baldry's "The House of Rimmon", which takes place some time after the events of "The Merchant of Venice". This tale is a poignant and melancholy yet redemptive consideration of the fate of the much-slighted Shylock. Equally striking is Rosemary Aitken's "The Collaborator", one of two pieces at the end of the collection that deal not with characters from the plays, but rather with the "real" setting of Shakespeare's London and its inhabitants. Aitken postulates that the entire cycle of plays was sending a message, one warning of murders, intrigues, and treason at the highest levels. But who are the culprits and who are the victims?
While almost every author featured in this volume turns in a serviceable enough effort, few of the pieces really rise into a high level of quality. There is just enough good stuff here, though, to merit attention, and certainly this book will amuse Shakespeareans and those mystery readers who aren't going to demand to much from a short story.
Note that there is a companion volume available with similarly-themed tales.
Another book edited by Ashley is Classical Whodunnits which has the main persons of the short stories be characters from ancient history or from classical literature.