After Da Vinci, readers rush to unravel the secrets of Shakespeare
Ever since Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code, blending the world of Renaissance art with a fast-paced murder mystery, countless authors have attempted to replicate his success, and failed.
So when a first-time author added her work to the mountain of historical thrillers without the help of an advertising campaign or a recommendation by Channel 4's Richard and Judy book club, few would have predicted outstanding sales figures.
Yet, 12 weeks after going on sale, Jennifer Lee Carrell's The Shakespeare Secret has gained a place in the top five of this year's bestseller list and is being hailed as the next publishing phenomenon. The novel, which tells the story of a young American theatre director who is working at the Globe theatre when her friend is poisoned to death in the same manner as the king in Hamlet, has taken the UK book charts by storm, says The Bookseller, which called it the "literary sensation of the year".
So far, it has sold 175,000 copies, the Neilson BookScan shows, and is already among 2008's biggest selling paperback books, proving more popular than most of this year's Richard and Judy book club choices, which often dominate book charts.
The novel begins with a devastating fire at Harvard University's Widener Library and continues with a series of murders committed in increasingly theatrical style. All the while, the central character searches for the holy grail of Shakespearean study, a missing play and confirmation of the Bard's real identity.
Philip Stone, charts editor at The Bookseller, said it had sold more than 10,000 copies a week for more than two months, which was an "incredible feat for a debut novelist". He added: "It takes something magnificent to crack the bestseller charts without a boost from Richard and Judy, not having won a prize and without the help of media attention. It's the first time in the UK market in recent memory that this has happened. No one in Britain had heard of J L Carrell ... [now she] is always being mentioned in the same breath as Dan Brown."
One reviewer said: "Carrell omits [Dan] Brown's ridiculous howlers but follows his penchant for twists, turns and incessant violence." David Shelley, the editor of the book at Sphere, part of Little, Brown publishing group, said: "In our wildest dreams, no one here ever thought it would do that well, and we couldn't be more thrilled." He said he was drawn to the book in 2005 at a book fair, and bought it on the strength of reading a synopsis and just two chapters. "We paid a reasonable sum, but nothing like what is commonly paid for books in this genre," he said. "The idea of 'occult Shakespeare' is fascinating."
Carrell, who lives in Arizona, is a Shakespeare scholar who has studied at Harvard, Stanford and Oxford. She has previously written a historical non-fiction book, The Speckled Monster, which was praised for its novelistic quality.
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 5 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils