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.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test