Thursday, November 29, 2007

Something Rotten

Gratz, Alan. 2007. Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery.

I was curious to read this modern adaption of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. I was a bit hesitant, after all, it had potential to be great fun OR truly awful. Most modern adaptations fall into one of those two camps. I was hoping for 'great fun' and indeed it fell more in line with that. I think the reason this book works is because it focuses not on Hamlet (Hamilton Prince) and his melodrama but on his friend Horatio. This is Horatio's story from beginning to end.

First line: Denmark, Tennessee, stank. Bad. Like dead fish fricasseed in sewer water.

The Prince family of Denmark, Tennessee, is rich and corrupt. Mostly. Horatio is a school friend visiting Hamilton for the summer. Their first stop? The family paper plant--Elsinore Paper Plant--the source of the stink in Denmark.

I don't know how familiar teens are with Hamlet these days. I would imagine it's still assigned reading in some places. But those who are familiar will recognize how Gratz updates the memorable ghost scene which opens the play. A videotape reveals a startling image:

The man on the screen had snow white hair and a face like a walnut. He looked like he was a hundred years old, but it was Mr. Prince, sure enough. There was a sad, hollow look in his eyes that I knew but couldn't place.

The tape goes on...

Hamilton, if the boys show you this tape, it means something bad has happened. Something very bad. It means I've been murdered. . . It was poison . . .

Hamilton immediately suspects his uncle Claude. His new step-father. Horatio isn't as quick to jump to conclusions. He treats this situation like a true mystery. He decides to observe, listen, and wait patiently for the pieces to fall into place. Hamilton? Well, Hamilton just wants to yell, mope, drink, and be a miserable drain to everyone's mood.

All the familiar characters are there. I think the more familiar you are with the play--either through reading it or seeing it--the more you can appreciate it. However, I doubt that that is essential.

There were many things I enjoyed about this one, though I didn't love, love, love it. Still, I can see myself recommending this one to others. I know a few people who love Shakespeare, and this will definitely be something I mention to them. :)

You can read the first chapter here.

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