Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery by Alan Gratz

There have been several retellings of Shakespeare lately, this is the third that I know of that has focused on Hamlet. I had heard some chatter about this one being a fun read and so I decided to check it out. I was immediately drawn in by the awesome cover art. I mean, it is just incredibly attractive. Definitely one of the best covers I’ve seen this year.

The story isn’t half bad either! As I seem to remember from the original Hamlet, it is Horatio that lives to tell the tale and it is Horatio that tells this tale as well. He lives in modern day Knoxville Tennessee where he attends a boarding school with Hamilton Prince (the Hamlet character). After Hamilton’s father dies suddenly the boys return to Hamilton’s hometown during their summer vacation to figure out what happened. Hamilton loses himself in drunkenness and erratic behavior, while Horatio, a more solid and reliable person digs deep to figure out the mystery.

The author stuck close to the story of Hamlet, but wasn’t afraid to branch out and change details which was much appreciated by this reader. I especially enjoyed the new twist on Olivia (Ophelia) and the river.

Occasionally the Shakespeare references seemed a little heavy handed. For instance, all of Horatio’s sisters are named after various heroines from Shakespeare. The town play that summer just happens to be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. And the two characters in the book based on them even attend the play (although of course it is highly confusing for them). Horatio even states that, “Personally, I’m a little tired of every author without a bright idea of his own putting a modern spin on a ‘classic.’ ”

What made the story work is that Horatio is a witty guy, he’s got some terrific one liners, and the plot moves along at a good pace. Important, since this appears to be the first in a series of mysteries. I do wonder if Horatio will continue to reenact various Shakespeare plots or if this was just a starting point.

It would be fun to pair this with the original in an English Class, but would work just as well for teens who are only looking for a fun mystery to pass the time.

1 comment:

joanna said...

We met the author at ALA this summer. I think Michelle and Nichole can say more as I was busy stalking Judy Blume at the time. But he seemed like a great guy.