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Editorial Reviews

As British best-selling crime author David Hewson reflects in his introduction to this innovative project, "the Scottish play" is shrouded in mysteries that are not to be taken lightly. Shakespeare condensed and confused 17 years in the history of a beloved king into a play covering a few days rife with political intrigue and shadowy motivations. In The Bard's tragic canon, Macbeth stands as an anomaly for many reasons, including how short it is and how flat all the characters are besides Macbeth himself. With the help of A.J. Hartley, distinguished professor of Shakespeare at UNC-Charlotte and thriller novelist, Macbeth: A Novel is poised to provide a more complete and fleshy picture of this odd little play.

Going where many other actors would fear to tread is, of course, Alan Cumming. Cumming has a long history with daring characters on stage and on the big screen, as well as his fair share of Shakespeare with a previous turn as Hamlet. With an Audie Award already under his belt, he has the chops necessary to imagine and give voice to paranoid kings and conniving witches, but perhaps one of the greatest joys of his work on Macbeth: A Novel is just the fact of his naturally beautiful Scottish accent left unfettered. Nothing sets the landscape so clearly as listening to those long, rolling vowels come up from a part of the belly that only a Scot must have.

Cumming does not shy away from the devious depths of feeling that Hartley and Hewson have so carefully layered onto the play. No more off-stage murder, no more simply scary witches chanting, and quite a bit more sympathy for this story's many devils. Every poisonous cup and every stab wound are rendered in living battle colors. The three witches are not just weird, but positively demonic, each with their own dynamic contribution to the making of a king. Lady Macbeth and Banquo in particular have personalities that loom as large as Macbeth's familiar form.

A strikingly modern interpretation that nevertheless faithfully adapts Shakespeare's original, this audiobook will surely please a wide variety of listeners. Lovers of mysteries or political thrillers, teachers struggling to blow the dust off a classic for their students, and fans of Shakespeare will all find many reasons to enjoy Hartley and Hewson's fresh presentation. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

Macbeth: A Novel brings the intricacy and grit of the historical thriller to Shakespeare’s tale of political intrigue, treachery, and murder. In this full-length novel written exclusively for audio, authors A. J. Hartley and David Hewson rethink literature’s most infamous married couple, grounding them in a medieval Scotland whose military and political upheavals are as stark and dramatic as the landscape on which they are played.

Macbeth is a war hero and a patriot, doing everything in his power to hold together Duncan’s crumbling kingdom, which is beset by sedition from within and with threats from overseas. But when Duncan, contrary to ancient Scottish tradition, turns to building a family dynasty instead of rewarding those who have borne the brunt of the fighting, Macbeth and his powerful wife, Skena, make plans of their own, plans designed to hold both the nation and their strained relationship together. Sinister figures who claim supernatural knowledge spur them on, but the terrible outcome is as much about accident and failure as it is malevolence. Soon Macbeth and his wife find themselves preeminent in all the land, but struggling to hold themselves and their country together as former friends turn into bitter and deadly enemies.

This is Macbeth as you have not heard it before: fresh, edgy, and vital. It is a story of valor in battle, whispering in shadows, witchcraft in the hollows of an ancient landscape, and the desperate struggle of flawed people to do what they think is right.


A. J. Hartley, a professor of Shakespeare at the Univ. of North Carolina-Charlotte, is the author of the “Will Hawthorne” fantasy series as well as several thrillers.
David Hewson is the best-selling author of 16 novels, including the Rome-based “Nic Costa” crime series.


Alan Cumming stars in CBS's The Good Wife, for which he received an Emmy nomination, and is the host of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. He was honored with the 2011 Audie Award for Best Male Narrator.

The Irish folk song “She Moved Through the Fair” is performed by Heather O'Neil of the Irish Repertory Theater.

Check out behind-the-scenes videos of the "making of", plus co-author David Hewson's research photos, taken on-location in Scotland, here.
Listen to more titles from A. J. Hartley and David Hewson.
©2011 A.J. Hartley, David Hewson (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“Not only is the novel an amplification of Shakespeare's famous tragedy, but it also fills in many of the gaps and gives a new perspective on Macbeth….Alan Cumming reads in a luscious Scottish brogue, which adds authenticity to the narration. His subtle changes of voice for different characters provide a full cast for this story of ambition and hubris. This is a wonderful novel of the human condition, read with ardor and enthusiasm.” (AudioFile)

What members say

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  • Beverly
  • Corpus Christi, TX, United States
  • 07-10-11

Narrator choice inspired

This wonderful imagining of the tale of Macbeth fleshes out the story line of Shakespeare's play and brings to life even further than Shakespeare implies the love story between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, whom the authors name "Skena," and the love story between Macbeth and Scotland. The scenery is as bleak as ever Scotland in the dark ages can be painted, and yet the players love the land. The theme "the king and the land are one" is maintained from legend to this telling and pathetic fallacy abounds. But as beautiful as the writing is, the choice of Scot Alan Cumming to narrate this novel was nothing short of inspired. Scots are often unintelligible to the American ear, but Cumming is intelligible and completely Scottish at the same time. His narration is charming, romantic, and compelling. The authors have scored high with this imagining of a story found deep in history. I hope their next experiment will be with one of my favorite characters from Shakespeare and history--Richard III.

51 of 52 people found this review helpful

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English teacher loves the audiobook!

Though I am a stickler for history, and - as another reviewer mentioned - I would have liked this story to include Macbeth's "good years" as a ruler (and I don't think it would have hurt the narrative at all), I loved this audiobook. The narrator was fantastic, I loved the character development (Skena and Macbeth), and the new take on the witches. As for the take on Duncan, it may be unflattering and unfair, but so was the original play. Listened for most of an 8-hour drive...and was upset to finally be at my destination before the story was finished!

31 of 32 people found this review helpful

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  • Karen
  • Newbury, MA, United States
  • 07-23-11

Macbeth comes to life!!!

This is a first review for me;I am not prone to doing such. I cannot praise this effort with sufficient words. As with others, once I began listening, i could not unplug my earbuds. Alan Cummings was spectacular as the narrator; a choice spot on. The writing of the novel, although with some liberties and condensing of history, was superb. I cannot thank the writers enough for taking the risk to do Macbeth in novel form. Congratulations to Audible for making the listening of the novel an exciting adventure.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan
  • FREDERICK, MD, United States
  • 07-02-11

This book is hard to put down.

This is a fantastic rendition of MacBeth. I kept waiting for the book to slow down, so I could stop listening and go to sleep; Finally at 3 a.m. I forced myself to stop the book, so I could go to sleep.
The characters were really fleshed out, which I found fascinating. Alan Cumming as the narrator really brought the story to life.
I can honestly say, I will listen to this book again in the future; It's just that good!

45 of 48 people found this review helpful

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  • Janice
  • Sugar Land, TX, United States
  • 07-17-11

Macbeth fully realized.

This Audible offering takes the familiar story and turns it into a fully realized epic, placed in historical and political context. The writing is outstanding, so that I could envision the very landscape and scenery throughout all of the story locations. It is both an action story and a political and psychological thriller. The characters are fleshed out with complexity that prevents black and white "good guys vs bad guys" caracature. By filling in details of the political and cultural scene of 11th century Scotland, the authors allow us to have a better understanding of the motivations of all the characters, particularly why Macbeth decides to kill the king in the first place - going beyond the motivation of raw ambition. Lady Macbeth is much more complex than the ambitious behind-the-scenes manipulator that we are used to - and much more sympathetic. The presentation of the 3 witches is particularly facinating - no "double, double toil and trouble" - but very specific descriptions of their different personalities and their role in setting the action in motion.

A word about the reading by Alan Cumming - Superb! As a Scot, his voice lends welcome authenticity to the narration. He is a master at providing distinctive voices to all of the characters, and I was especially impressed with his ability to provide credible voices to the female characters - typically a difficult task for male readers.

I listened to the entire book in one day - unable to put it down. This is a wonderful piece of drama that should not be missed. I will look for more original titles from Audible if this is the standard of excellence that can be expected.

54 of 58 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Et Tu Macbeth?

A briliiant novel, brilliantly performed, Macbeth: A Novel, owes as much to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as it does to his Scottish Play. Macbeth is presented as a Scottish Brutus, determined to preserve the Scottish oligarchy by which the Scottish king is chosen by the acclimation of the nobles, rather than by heredity.

Far from seizing the crown for himself, Macbeth is presented as an idealist and a patriot with an over active conscience leading him to excess, paranoia and insanity. Lady Macbeth is shown as a pragmatist with a heart that turns sour.

Combining the Shakespearian influences in this way something new and true is created. All involved deserve praise and recognition both for this masterwork and for what it might potentially due to further establish the credibility of the audiobook genre.

31 of 33 people found this review helpful

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More than an audiobook - a work of art

The idea to create an audio-only novelization of Macbeth is a wonderful one, but having Alan Cumming narrate it elevates this into a work of art. The characters are beautifully fleshed out. Macbeth comes off as a patriot instead of a traitor, doing what he believes is best to save Scotland's traditions rather than allow a weak king to appoint his son to replace him. Alan Cumming's narration is brilliant -- superb acting combined with Scottish flair. I could listen to his voice all day (and just did!).

Having just returned from Scotland, I can also say that the atmosphere of the Scottish Highlands comes alive in this novel, as much a character as any of the people. Understanding the Scots, their fierce pride and love of the land, puts Macbeth and his wife into a setting which makes, to me, much more sense than the Shakespeare version. Sorry Will.

I encourage everyone to take advantage of this unique and beautiful book.

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Jennifer
  • ST PAUL, MN, United States
  • 11-12-11

My first Shakespeare (but not my last)

I came to this novel differently than many people probably have - I have never read or watched Shakespeare's plays. I have only the slightest general cultural knowledge of things like MacBeth and Romeo & Juliet, etc. My hope was that this novel would lead me to take on Shakespeare - and it has! The book was dark, of course, and a tragedy (I think even I knew that much) but it also led me through the path of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth from idealistic youth to their tortured endings in an understandable way. The narrator was AMAZING as others have stated, and really made each character come to life for me! I look forward to reading the actual play MacBeth (probably the Spark Notes "no fear Shakespeare version, I'm a wimp) to see the differences and similarities. So really, any novel that leads a regular working-class person to want to read Shakespeare has to be a good one, right?

27 of 29 people found this review helpful

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Macbeth-a Masterpiece!

I never believed that any author would have the nerve to rewrite Shakespeare but Hartley and Hewson have dispelled that belief and produced an amazing, dramatic novel based on "Macbeth."
Yes, "Macbeth" is a novel and subject to the authors' inventions and imagination but it takes the play and develops it, giving us a fully rounded story incorporating so much of the actual social and political situation in Scotland during the 11th century.
The ruggedness of the Scottish landscape and the cruel winter climate are vividly portrayed as are the battle scenes which enable us to catch a glimpse of the harshness of life and horrific warfare in Macbeth's Scotland.
Belief in witchcraft was commonplace and the authors fully develop this aspect portraying the witches in a fascinating new way. All the characters are so fleshed out that we come to a greater understanding of them as real human beings and even find ourselves empathising with them, especially Macbeth himself and his wife Skena.
In all Hartley and Hewson bring "Macbeth" to life by painting a vivid picture of the play in a most eloquent fashion.
The choice of Alan Cumming is a master stroke as through his inspired narration we are led to a greater understanding of the characters. He said that to him it felt that the original play had evolved from this novel. Praise indeed and so well merited!

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Deborah
  • Chambersburg, PA, United States
  • 05-08-12

Not Your Mother's Shakespeare (but still enjoyable

There seems to be a run of Shakespearean adaptations in fiction of late. In addition to this one, I recently reviewed 'Iago' by David Snodden, and 'I, Iag'o by Nicole Galland. 'Macbeth: A Novel' is the collaborative creation of British crime writer A. J. Hartley and David Hewson, a professor of Shakespeare who writes thrillers in his spare time. Although I'm not a reader of either genre, I am a Shakespearean and know the play very well. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of 'Macbeth: A Novel'; after all, no one can improve upon Shakespeare, and many of the adaptations I've read are either laughable or maddening. So I was pleasantly surprised and even enjoyed this one--perhaps particularly because I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by Alan Cumming, who for once was free to revel in his glorious Scottish accent.

Hewson and Hartley stick pretty closely to the bare bones of the plot that we are all familiar with, but they take free reign in filling in the "offstage" details. For example, the first third of the book puts readers right in the middle of the civil rebellion and Norse invasion that have been going on as the play opens. We see Macbeth and Banquo fighting in the field; we see Macbeth's capture of the rebel Macdonwald, the blow-by-blow fight to his bloody death preceded by a verbal exchange that prefigures Macbeth's own treacherous acts. Shakespeare, on the contrary, perfunctorily has messengers deliver the news of Macbeth's victories to King Duncan. Back on the home front, the authors give Lady Macbeth a name of her own (Skena). They provide an answer to the oft-asked question, "Where are Lady Macbeth's children?" And they give us plenty of chat between the couple that helps us to understand the powerful forces between them. Interior flashbacks also flesh out the Macbeths' individual biographies, and frequently we're made privy as to what is going on in their minds. Hewson and Hartley imaginatively--but not fantastically--fill in the blanks: why exactly Macbeth turns on Banquo, what happens to Fleance after his father's murder, who the weird sisters are and how they came to be witches, what daily life is like at Macduff's castle before the assassins arrive, and more.

I won't be recommending this book as a classic, or even a must-read. The style is probably better suited to crime novels and thriller: a bit too 'colorful' and 'overwrought,' shall we say, for my taste. Yet it fits just fine with the story of Macbeth. This was a fun piece to breeze through at the end of the semester, which is always a stressful time for me. If the idea of a thriller-crime novel version of Macbeth, read in a charming and authentic Scottish accent by a fine actor, appeals to you, I say, go for it!

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Russ
  • 07-09-12


I have to admit to being very dubious about this book, but decided to take the plunge and try it because I absolutely adore the play (despite studying it at school!)

The positives are that the Shakespearean story remains intact and very well interpreted, it is set conventionally in 11th century Scotland, and I have to say that Alan Cumming is absolutely brilliant as a reader. The plot is the same as the play and belts along just like the play. The authors have really fleshed out the characters with more back story and more characterisation.

There is only one negative and this is that I was expecting more of the historical King Macbeth who died in 1057. Now this may just be me and my reading of the blurb above but I was expecting more of the historical facts rather than the novel just sticking to Shakespeare's version of events.

That said, it is a great book and well worth a listen.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Joseph
  • 09-26-11

Absolutely excellent

I never did Shakespeare at school and even now I follow the Bertie Wooster philosophy of "...sounds well but doesn't mean anything." (Call me a Philistine if you wish).

This book however is an exciting adventure story set in the 11th Century and whether you know Shakespeare or not it is page turning stuff (or the audio equivalent).

I highly recommend this for just what it is.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Kirstine
  • 04-15-14

Shakespeare interpreted the story so much better

I had thought this book would be an historical novel closer to the real story of Macbeth rather than a re-working of Shakespeare’s play. However, it turned out to be a fleshing out of the play with some variations from Shakespeare’s imaginative changes from his source material Hollingshead’s History of Scotland. The present authors change some of the most gripping scenes in the play and alter the portrayal of characters such as King Duncan from a saintly monarch to a lecher who preys on young girls and Banquo from a fine man into a father who sneers unreasonably at his son, Fleance. I think their changes diminished the balance of the story so ably constructed by Shakespeare.

Some of the historical detail is interesting but at other times the narrative is like a romantic novel with some raunchy sex scenes shoe-horned in. I kept feeling that the central story was being submerged by verbiage. Rather than illuminating the story with extra details the authors have deadened it by their excessively descriptive prose laden with adjectives and similes: the kind of adolescent writing ones hopes to leave behind with experience. Even at crucial points in the story such as Duncan’s murder; Lady Macbeth’s suicide and Macbeth’s death there are endless diversions of detail and excess verbiage that ruin the momentum of the scene. A few phrases are lifted from Shakespeare’s play and these shine as examples of great writing.

This audio book finishes with a postscript from the authors explaining what they had done and, while I accept that a novel is different from a play, I think their version lacks the pace, subtle human psychology and character development of the play. The saying "less is more" comes to mind.

I was glad when the book ended as I was repeatedly infuriated by the florid prose.

The talented Scottish actor Alan Cummings does a grand job of bringing the characters to life and inject excitement into the battle scenes.

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • M
  • 06-20-14

Toil and trouble ...

A brutal and marvellous re-telling of the classic dark tale of betrayal and destiny. Loved it!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Jayne
  • 09-06-12


What a brilliant interpretation , of the classic Macbeth, the narrator was excellent he made the story come alive, I'm so glad I bought this as I shall listen to it again.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Louisa
  • 07-25-12

A good idea

The idea behind this book is excellent. The historical insights are interesting and some of the imagery really vivid. Nevertheless the book suffers from a major problem and that is that we all know what is going to happen in the end. Furthermore I was struck by how desperately upsetting the story is. If you see the play in a theatre, you can go out and chat to your friends or whatever and take a deep breath and look about you. Here the authors tell a tale of unremitting horror and bloodthirsty-ness and there are moments when it all gets a bit much! However, the story is told from a very thought-provoking, and I would argue, contemporary perspective. This is no replacement for seeing the play, but an intriguing discussion of the historical person of Macbeth. I particularly liked the way the authors weave in passages from the play – these passages work very well within the story and remind the listener/reader of the authors’ starting point.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Mrs. K. Sowden
  • 01-30-16

Excellent story well read

Wonderful story expanding the tragic tale of Macbeth and his wife. Alan Cummings read it very well.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • tontowilliams
  • 07-27-11

Think you know Macbeth - think again!

This retelling of the tale by David Hewson and A J Hartley is just simply amazing. Bringing a new depth to the story, this is no repeating the original Shakespeare but an inspired reworking, incredibly bought to life by the vocal talents of Alan Cumming.

Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, King Duncan and The Witches are all brought vividly to life.

The writing is amazing and the narration is one of the best that I have heard on audible.

If you think Shakespeare is too stuffy or full of flowery words then this interpretation will give you a new appreciation of classic literature bought up to date by modern audiobooks.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Mrs. Virginia H. Stewart
  • 12-27-12

Really excellent story

I don't usually like interpretations of Shakespeare, let alone my favourite play, so I had doubts about this version of Macbeth, but I absolutely love it!

The story fleshes out Shakespeare's Macbeth into a well rounded detailed gripping thriller, which is enhances the original. Small details really bring the characters to life - for example they have given Lady Macbeth a first name, which makes her so real and sympathetic. By detailing the Scottish politics of succession Maceth's actions are far more reasoned and much less based on vaulting ambition.

I also love the narrator.

Do download this book and have a listen to a really interesting and gripping story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • VAL G.
  • 01-16-12


Not sure what I expected from this book and I am new to this tye of literature. Overall I enjoyed it.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful