Book Review: The Shakespeare Secret by J.L. Carrell

The Shakespeare Secret is the first book by J.L Carrell to feature Kate Stanley.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A complex, fast-paced adventure through the world of Shakespeare, both past and present, which kept me entertained. 3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

A modern serial killer – hunting an ancient secret.

A woman is left to die as the rebuilt Globe theatre burns. Another woman is drowned like Ophelia, skirts swirling in the water. A professor has his throat slashed open on the steps of Washington’s Capitol building.

A deadly serial killer is on the loose, modelling his murders on Shakespeare’s plays. But why is he killing? And how can he be stopped?

Favourite Quote

The book that had rolled from the presses at last was a beautiful thing – a blatant bid to shift the author from the rowdy, disreputable world of the theatre to the eternal truths of poetry.

(From The Shakespeare Secret by J. L. Carrell, page 55)


For the most part, I enjoyed this story.  It was an entertaining tale, full of action and adventure, and with plenty of twists and turns, reminding me in no small way of the writing of Dan Brown, especially the Da Vinci Code.  I had an idea of how the story was going to end, but I couldn’t quiet guess how it would get there, so it certainly kept me interested.

The story is presented as a Shakespeare play, with the modern story taking place during the “Acts” and the historical flashbacks / contexts taking place in the “Interludes” between. I understand the reason behind doing this, but I wonder if the book might have read better without the historical scenes.  The Acts were far longer than the interludes and the modern story complicated enough without stepping back in time to another cast of characters, whose own storylines themselves were convoluted.  Political and religious intrigues of the Elizabethan era, not to mention family trees, are complex, and when there is more than one character called “Will”, or the person in question is being referred to by their family name or title…yeah, it can be hard to keep up.

If you don’t like Shakespeare, or have no interest in his plays and sonnets, you probably won’t enjoy this book. Neither will you appreciate the references to his writing and life, made throughout the story, which were cleverly woven into the plot. Also, if you take Shakespeare and everything about him quite seriously, again you might not enjoy this book, especially if you have a firm view on whether Shakespeare was really the man behind the works attributed to him. But if you can separate the fictional entertainment from the scholarly aspects of the subject, I do think you will enjoy it.

I loved all the locations the story meanders through, some of which I’ve visited myself – Stratford-upon-Avon, and some you wouldn’t necessarily think of – Valladolid, Spain. The author clearly knows a lot about the subject, and this knowledge filters down through the storytelling.

It wasn’t until I was writing the review for The Shakespeare Secret that I realised the author has penned another book featuring Kate Stanley, Haunt Me Still, inspired by Macbeth.  Having been well-entertained with the first book, I would gladly give this second book a read.


3.5 / 5

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Shakespeare Secret by J.L. Carrell

  1. Pingback: Bookish Reflections – November 2020 | Sammi Loves Books

  2. Interesting idea! I am a sucker for anything about Shakespeare, and yet I’m happy to entertain the theory that he didn’t write every word. I’m more interested in the plays themselves than in who gets credit for them. I can see what you mean about how it gets confusing with so many timelines and especially people with the same name or multiple names per person — that drives me crazy!

    Liked by 1 person

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