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starA Riveting Read

By Charlene Servey on May 30, 2016
Well researched, yet amazingly inventive. Mr. O’Donnell has a clear love of language and an ability to play with it. Both challenging and gratifying this is book you won’t want to put down

The trouble with telling other readers about John O’Donnell’s joy ride of a novel is how to describe its unique blend of erudition and fun without sounding pompously literary or fanzine stupid. It’s hard to explain why it is so good, like some exotic blend of Bar Harbor fudge and Islay single malt. But I’ll try.

Even those who love Shakespeare’s Hamlet — maybe especially them — will find guilty pleasure in O’Donnell’s send-up of Denmark’s most celebrated prince. And there is pleasure here, too, in the Kinbotean layering of the narrative, in spots as worldly cynical as any of Nabokov and as academically naughty as any of Umberto Ecco. And the way O’Donnell works the story of literature’s most feckless mama’s boy into the real history of Scandinavia and the Reformation is stunningly clever.
This is a wild narrative adventure, a cunning alternative take on history, an ingenious turn of post-modern intertextuality, and an enormously enjoyable spin on spy fiction – great fun no matter the angle from which you approach it.

Charles Phillips


Paced like Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code

By Vitello Tonnato
March 20, 2016
Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

Paced like Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code, but written with the ingenuity of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and the accuracy of Alan Furst’s Mission to Paris, John O’Donnell’s new spy novel, Revenge at Elsinore, mesmerizes readers with a dark adventure set at the cusp of the terrible religious strife that would soon tear Europe apart. O’Donnell guides the plot with the sure hand of a trained historian. His richly rendered portrait of Martin Luther, especially the monk’s encounters with monarchs and master-spies, will reward students of the Reformation with new understanding and plausible alternative history. There is more to the heretical Augustinian monk than any have suspected. In fact, O’Donnell’s startling tale also provides us with a key to unlock the mysteries of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that have perplexed literary experts and audiences for five centuries. I won’t give the secret away. But I will say that in this tale of revenge, O’Donnell shows special insight into secret statecraft and the mortal dangers that face deep cover agents. After reading Revenge at Elsinore, no student, playgoer, or serious scholar, will be able to regard Hamlet, or Shakespeare himself for that matter, in quite the same way again.

5.0 out of 5 stars

A ripping good yarn

By Barry M
April 14, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase

I have only a superficial acquaintance with Hamlet, but it doesn’t take anything away from enjoying this wonderful historical novel. The rich use of language, as well as the deeply researched details, made this both a page-turner and satisfyingly complex.


starFor fans of Hamlet — and aren’t we all?

By Bob Poulson
April 29, 2016

Revenge At Elsinore is a wonderful book and a challenging read. Not easy, but many of the best books are not. It requires a certain amount of commitment—in time, in patience (like Hamlet, most of the action happens at the end) and in the exercise of your intellect. That said, it’s well worth the effort—again, like Hamlet, there are depths of meaning and feeling that are very rewarding to reach.

In the most basic sense, Revenge At Elsinore is alternative history, or maybe alternative drama would be a better description. That is, we learn what Hamlet is “actually about,” what “actually happened,” and who all those characters “actually were” (Shakespeare based his play on actual events, which is O’Donnell’s conceit, but is also in fact probably true.) Despite what I said above about requiring some effort, it’s great fun. Especially so since pretty much everyone has seen Hamlet. (If you haven’t, this book is not for you—but in that case, you should see it as soon as possible—rent one of the movie versions—I recommend Mel Gibson’s, which has a marvelous cast.)

O’Donnell is a historian, and a serious one who obviously loves historical research, since he must have done a prodigious amount before and during the writing of this book. We learn a great deal, and I mean a great deal, about Danish-Swedish relations or lack of in the 1500s. And a great deal more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, which is surprisingly intriguing. It helps that O’Donnell brings Luther to life in a way that your school history classes never did.

Another wonderful thing about this book is the language. Horatio (yes, our narrator is Horatio) and the other characters speak presumably the way people spoke in the 1500s. It’s not like Chaucer, it’s perfectly understandable, it’s just slightly different and rather more elegant (well, the characters are all upper class) than the English we speak today. And O’Donnell is a master wordsmith—there’s quite a bit of marvelous wordplay.

In short, the story, the characters, the history and the language all make reading Revenge At Elsinore highly enjoyable, at least they did for me.

Strongly recommended—I hope there will be a sequel.