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Haunt Me Still by Jennifer Lee Carrell

A year and change ago, I read a lovely little gem of a book called Interred With Their Bones. Part The DaVinci Code-style thriller and part Shakespeare-heavy quasi-scholarship, it featured the accidental heroine Kate Stanley as she tried to track down a missing Shakespeare manuscript. When I heard Carrell was writing a sequel, I was intensely excited. Even as the sequel was delayed, once and then again, I prepared myself for a rollicking, suck-you-in adventure like Kate's first.

Haunt Me Still opens with Kate headed to Scotland, where she's been made an offer she can't refuse: direct a production of the Scottish play, Macbeth, using some of the finest actors in the world -- and starring, in part, elusive actress Janet Douglas who was set to play Lady Macbeth forty-some years ago before she disappeared from the public eye forever. On the eve of rehearsals, though, strange things start happening at the castle (rumored to be that of the actual Macbeth, centuries earlier) that Douglas calls her home: Kate has strange dreams, blood covers the hilltop, and a knife that history forgot appears. When murders and kidnappings start to point to a manuscript of Macbeth no one has ever seen, Kate is sent on a wild goose chase four hundred years in the making, hoping to find papers that never existed.

And save a life.

I really wanted to like the sequel. Interred With Their Bones is one of the first books I recommend when people want something good to be. It's fast-paced, well-written, addictive, and just an overall enchanting read. I thought that the formula Carrell used for it -- a formula that worked for her -- could stretch to her second novel.

I was wrong.

Haunt Me Still is what I am now terming a "sink" book, because (to quote Prison Break), it throws in "everything but the kitchen sink." We don't just have a missing manuscript, we have a murder, a manuscript, a knife, a mirror, a cauldron, witch craft, black magic, obscure historical figures, and three different countries. Oh, and more unlikely cubbyholes in historic buildings, running around museums in the dead of night, and running from the police.

This isn't the problem with the book, though, because Interred With Their Bones was full of absolute impossibility in every page. No, the problem with this book is that the charm is gone. In the previous novel, you, as the reader, wanted Kate to succeed. Every step of the way, every ridiculous twist of the plot, you wanted to see her find that manuscript and save the day. Characters were clever, likable, and lively; the story hovered on far-fetched but never jumped off the bridge into complete impossibility. In short, it might have been a guilty pleasure, but it was a good one.

Haunt Me Still lacked all of that. Eircheard, the one character who might count as comic relief, is amusing but also comes across as dull-witted and blank half the time. Lady Nairn, Lily, Joanna, Ben, and even Kate herself come across at different times as impetuous, annoying, or disproportionately something, be it cold, emotional, stoic, underhanded, or petulant. The undertones of Wicca, too, and "black magic" just made the book read like it was trying to feed into vampire sensationalism, not actually build a decent story. I was so disappointed to see a book that I've waited for turn into a joke, but sadly, it does, one page after another, until all that I'm left with is a bitter taste in my mouth.

A bit, actually, like Kate Stanley is. 


the forest-dweller

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