Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake #5), by C.J. Sansom

Eight stars

C.J. Sansom dazzles with his great set of Tudor era historical mysteries, mixing a few legal conundrums with controversies of the time to keep the reader hooked. England is at war, though its citizenry is less than enamoured with the idea. France remains a thorn in the side of King Henry VIII and he has done all he can to prepare the country for battle, including debasing the already fragile currency. Matthew Shardlake watches and wonders what is to come for his country, when he is not spending time at the mental institution visiting a new friend, Ellen Fettiplace. Her time under lock and key is reaching two decades, though she espouses innocence for the charges levied against her. When Shardlake is summoned to Court, he meets with Queen Catherine (Parr) and discovers a new case on which to work. One of the Queen’s former ladies has a legal matter that will require some attention. Her son was a tutor in a household where two young wards of the state were placed. This tutor indicated that there were issues in said household, but before any formal reporting could be done, the tutor was found hanging, though some wonder if it might have been murder. This will require Shardlake to visit the Court of Wards, seeking not only an injunction against the placement of these two wards, but to discover what has been going on. To do so, Shardlake and his assistant, Barak, will have to venture out to interview all involved. Shardlake is prepared for this, as it will give him the chance to learn more about Ellen’s circumstances as well. The Court of Wards handles the mentally infirm as part of their oversight and Ellen’s residence before incarceration was along the route Shardlake must follow. With war coming and soldiers preparing for battle, Shardlake’s inquiries will prove explosive in all senses of the word. Might Ellen not have committed murder as she is said to have done? Could the fire that destroyed the foundry on which she lived not have been of her own doing? And what of these wards, who are apparently not safe in their current placement? Shardlake is ready for anything, including a French invasion, in this stunning novel. A scintillating account of events by C.J. Sansom, who uses history and dramatic effect throughout the piece. Those who have loved the series to date will surely want to continue with this novel.

After a stuttering step on my part, I have come to see that C.J. Sansom educates and entertains the reader with each passing story. As my work involves Child Welfare and Protection, this story was especially interesting to me, as I was able to explore how things were done five centuries before. Matthew Shardlake continues to defy logic and pushes to better understand the Tudor world around him, pushing the limits whenever possible. His adventures take him all over the country, though he cannot shake much of the criticism and mockery, no matter where he goes. With a strong affinity for Ellen Fettiplace, the reader can see a softer side of Shardlake’s character, though there is still something holding him back. While the ‘ward’ case seems less to shine a light on what SHardlake feels, the reader gets more of Barak’s personality shining through, with his wife carrying their child. Series fans will know the monumental nature of this and respect its addition in the story a little more. Shardlake remains a keen legal mind and appears to have the respect of many senior officials at Court, which is significant with the history he possesses. The reader will likely enjoy many of the plot and character advancements found within this piece and I applaud Sansom’s subtle attention to both. Mixing a few characters from the history books alongside a handful of entertaining newbies, Sansom develops a wonderful cast to propel the story forward in many directions. I have said it before and will repeat myself, Sansom has a wonderful way of weaving his characters into a glorious tapestry and will not disappoint. The novel is well-paced and offers more English history with a Tudor flavour, as the country prepares for another battle. The novel is by no means out of the realm of any reader, though its topic and analysis can sometimes give it a ‘deeper’ and more ‘intense’ feel, alongside the long and intricate chapters that may be red flags for some readers. The patient reader may enjoy peeling back the layers of history required to digest the larger plot. I am eager that I gave the series another chance and want to get to the core of the Sansom reading experience.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for keeping me wondering as I learn much about the Tudor dynasty. I cannot wait to continue learning with this series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons