C.J. Sansom is at the top of his genre with this set of Tudor era historical mysteries. By mixing legal conundrums with controversies of the time, the reader is easily transported back in time and enveloped in stories that resonate throughout the centuries. England is at war again, though it is no sovereign state that has declared its opposition. Rather, there is a religious clash that continues at a time when Henry VIII seeks to reunite with past foes. While the Catholic/Church of England clash remains controversial, the emergence of new and troubling Protestant organizations has English folk questioning their neighbours. At the heart of things is Queen Catherine Parr herself, who has penned a manuscript about her own struggles, The Lamentations of a Sinner. In it, Queen Catherine reveals many of her thoughts on religion, which could not only anger her husband, but pave the way for her execution. The queen calls on Matthew Shardlake to attend her at Court, where he is tasked with covertly trying to discover what’s happened to it, as it has gone missing. More troubling, a local printer is found murdered with one of the manuscript’s handwritten pages in his hand. Shardlake realises that he must not only find a murderer, but the written document, doing so under veil of secrecy. With a young man having joined the office to better understand the law, Shardlake may use him for investigative purposes while training him in the law. As Shardlake and his assistant, Jack Barak, seek to find this manuscript, they soon discover more bodies and eventually make the connection to a controversial religious group whose views prove to be at the heart of the religious clash. Adding intrigue to the entire situation, Henry VIII is getting sicker by the day, meaning that both religious camps have the chance to make a play for the coming heir, Prince Edward. Which side will prove victorious and can the highly scandalous writing keep Queen Catherine from losing the respect of her dying husband? In a piece that explores some of the lesser-known aspects of Tudor England, Sansom proves to be a rose amongst patches of clover. Recommended to those who have come to love all things Sansom and readers who enjoy Tudor history.
There are so many pieces to the machinery of a Matthew Shardlake novel that the reader will have to pick and choose which suits them best. C.J. Sansom offers much on which the reader can feast and develops storylines throughout this well-paced series. Keeping history and mystery competing throughout, the reader can find what works best for them as they learn more about the era and the series protagonist. Matthew Shardlake is a wonderful central character whose development has not waned over the series. While there is little mention of flashbacks, Shardlake has enough in his present to keep the reader enthralled. A wonderful legal mind, many refuse to see this side of Shardlake, choosing to focus on his hunchback and writing him off as permanently impeded. Struggling with memories of a horrible naval disaster that still haunts him and trying to define the relationship he has with Queen Catherine so as not to find himself jailed, Shardlake forges ahead with a preliminary case that usually finds itself taking a a backseat to the more controversial events evolving throughout the narrative. The reader is able to see many returning characters whose lives continue to develop, while also seeing new faces enrich the story as they shape the plot’s direction. The story was strong and kept my attention throughout, instilling wonder as England tries to define itself for a second time under Henry VIII. Politics, religion, and regional power are intertwined in this piece, allowing C.J. Sansom to effectively educate and entertain simultaneously. While the series continues to develop, its key elements are in question and there is a sense of sectional finality by the epilogue. A recently published seventh novel will surely help explore some of the questions left unresolved in true Tudor form.
Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for keeping Tudor history alive in this piece of historical fiction. I hope new fans, like me, will discover this and lose themselves in the mastery you have of the genre.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons