Review: “Shakespeare’s Secret” by Elise Broach

No matter how many times or where her family has moved on account of her parents’ unique careers, Hero Netherfield is still an average girl with an unusual namesake, both factors that contribute to her “invisibility” at every elementary school she has transferred to.  Her older sister Beatrice is the complete opposite, always part of the “popular” groups at school.  At first Hero’s new life in a small town near Washington D.C. is similar to the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, the play from where her first name originated; although Hero secretly hopes that their new home will be different somehow, everything seems to be replaying familiar scenarios from her past without any recognizable humor.

Aside from her personal disasters at school, Hero finds an interesting, conversational next-door neighbor and new friend in Mrs. Miriam Roth.  Mrs. Roth becomes not only a friendly mentor but also reveals a topic of intrigue for Hero: she harbors the story of the history and mystery of the priceless Murphy diamond, a treasure that is supposedly hidden in Hero’s own house.  While Mrs. Roth secretly stores the Murphy necklace and her intimate connections to the necklace’s previous owners, Hero gets involved in solving the diamond’s disappearance and its origins, which links it to the true identity of William Shakespeare.  With the perplexing help of the most popular boy at school and her own wits, Hero is determined to unearth the whole story, find the diamond, and solve all rest of the mysteries surrounding both of her new friends in Shakespeare’s Secret.

One of the most famous playwrights in literature is William Shakespeare, and one of the most widely discussed literary mysteries is the true authorship of all plays attributed to this relatively unknown man.  Handwriting characteristics and comparable writing styles are the only clues to the real identity of the playwright, leaving no definite way for scholars and historians to prove who wrote which of Shakespeare’s plays.  However, Elise Broach creates in Shakespeare’s Secret a plausible solution by including a fictional sixteenth century treasure whose hidden background ties the real writer to the plays.  Her theory that Edward de Vere was the true Shakespeare is credible, and she has composed her storyline with appropriate twists and turns for her child-like mystery of great proportions and impact.

Unfortunately, Shakespeare’s Secret is still a children’s book with too much predictability, so little romance that it was unnecessary to include any, and complete concentration on Hero with almost no development for her character.  However deftly designed and realistic the story and its mysteries are, Broach’s writing style is more or less the impediment in creating any realistic enthusiasm or excitement within the novel.  The emotions of the characters appear to be stifled and insipid in the midst of historical information.  Broach’s work here is a pretty typical mystery novel.  There just is not any motivation in the story, even when Hero does find the Murphy diamond.  To conclude, Shakespeare’s Secret is the type of mystery that will not convince a reader to peruse its content more than once.

Original review: Part 1: A hypothetical novel about the identity of Shakespeare; Part 2: A hypothetical novel about the identity of Shakespeare,


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