After the fun romp of Interred with their Bones, I was looking forward to Carrell’s next Shakespearean mystery with great anticipation. I wasn’t disappointed to learn that the focus of her second novel is on Macbeth, one of my favorite plays. However, after finally finishing the novel, I am very divided as to my feelings about Haunt Me Still.
On the one hand, I was thrilled to get an inkling into some of the real history behind the plot of Macbeth, which added another whole layer of intrigue to the story and hinted at further depth to the mysterious and oft-disputed William Shakespeare. Carrell is nothing if not an excellent researcher into the historical periods she writes about, and she offers some surprisingly plausible arguments to back up elements of her story. Of course, in historical novels, separating fact from the author’s fictional imagination is always a risk the reader must be prepared to take, and so whether Shakespeare actually served as a spy, as Christopher Marlowe did, for the British Crown of his day, is anybody’s guess but it would in fact tend to explain the otherwise unexplained familiarity in his plays with different parts of the British Isles as well as with the political intrigues of the nobility.
However, where Carrell’s talent did not hold up is in plot, pace, and character development. There are umpteen characters which flit in and out of her story, some with false names and multiple identities which made following the story well-nigh impossible. Keeping track of the good guys vs the bad guys was nearly impossible as well, and not by choice of the author but by sheer dint of her over-stuffed and terribly confusing story. The action is non-stop, and while this pace sort of worked in her first novel, it was positively exhausting to keep up with in this, her second. There is lots of globe-trotting. There are mysterious manuscripts and letters by the armful, written my equally mysterious characters over various centuries, which lead in multiple directions but somehow are all meant to cohere by the finale. There are magic rituals galore; there are secret rooms, magic mirrors, sentient daggers, and witches, bodies and blood everywhere.
Inexplicable is how our heroine Kate is driven throughout the novel to put herself in mortal danger to save the life of a spoiled and bratty teenage witch wannabe who she just met, while bodies are dropping around her and she herself is nearly killed too many times to count. Most astounding is how Kate seems to always do exactly what she’s told not to. Don’t go up the hill! Don’t take the knife! Don’t go alone into that deserted castle! You know how it’s head-scratchingly inconceivable why the victims in a horror flick always insist on entering the dark basement or running into the dark woods when a lunatic killer is about? Well, that’s our intrepid Kate all over. It was just a bit much.
The basic storyline is that the Scottish Play, as Macbeth is often called and which supposedly carries a curses with it, is really a second rendition by Shakespeare. The first allegedly contained real black magic rites which could have brought a powerful witch and would-be Queen of England (the inspiration for Lady Macbeth) back from the dead. A lot of bad people, and a lot of Shakespeare fanatics, want to get their hands on that lost manuscript for various reasons, and so the race begins. To be perfectly honest, I found the author’s Afterword, in which she explains the sources from which many of her characters and plotlines are drawn, to be more interesting than her novel. That’s not a good thing, I suspect.