Tombland (Matthew Shardlake #7), by C.J. Sansom

Nine stars

C.J. Sansom continues to impress with this set of Tudor era historical mysteries. Combing legal conundrums with historical controversies, the reader is taken back to relive some of the most tumultuous times during Tudor reign. Much has changed since the death of King Henry VIII, though England is still trying to get its legs under Edward VI and his council of advisors. Matthew Shardlake has remained scarce, but is under the employ of the Lady Elizabeth, who comes to him with an interesting legal matter. One of her distant relatives is about to go on trial for murder and Shardlake is needed to advise the local barristers and provide any investigative service he can. Armed with this mission—as well as a request for pardon from Lady Elizabeth, if it be necessary—Shardlake heads out to Norfolk with his legal assistant. Missing his former companion, Barak, Shardlake thinks back on all the trouble caused this friend during some of their adventures. Along the way, Shardlake encounters much resistance to his presence, particularly when it becomes known that he is from London, as there is a strong rebellion brewing in the area. While Shardlake seeks to help a distant Boleyn relative, he must tread lightly, for there are foes on both sides, including a handful connected to the family itself. During a brief trial, Shardlake sees just how loose justice seems to be in this domain, but will not rest until the real murderer is fingered and punished. With all this going on, a rebel uprising to protest the treatment of the locals by rich landlords is gaining steam, pitting two groups with whom Matthew Shardlake has connections against one another. Pulled into the middle of something that has no easy solution, Shardlake and his crew are soon vilified and taken as prisoners, with room for them at the gallows. England is yet again on the verge of something epic, though Shardlake would be just as happy to solve this murder and return to the safety of his own home. Detailed and full of historical research, C.J. Sansom has penned a stellar novel that will pull series fans into an adventure they will not soon forget. Highly recommended to those who love the Shardlake series, as well as readers who love English history with a twist.

The Matthew Shardlake novels are not ones that the casual reader will necessarily enjoy, as they are so full of history and nuanced characters, both of which tend to favour those who have the time to absorb the details. C.J. Sansom offers much the reader can enjoy, while developing storylines throughout this series. As history and mystery compete throughout, the reader learns much about both, alongside the series protagonist. Matthew Shardlake is a refreshing character whose development has not waned over the series. While not alluring in a physical sense, Shardlake has much to offer with his mind and actions to keep the reader enthralled. Shardlake has moved throughout the Tudor period, affixed to many key characters, but is always able to separate himself from the fray and focus on his legal work, even if it takes him on tangential adventures. Throughout the piece, the reader will see an evolution in the Shardlake character, adding personal nuances that help to enrich the series in new ways. There are many returning characters whose presence offers a means of propelling the narrative forward while also adding to Shardlake’s larger impact on the series. These characters, and those who make their debut in this novel, permit C.J. Sansom to effectively educate and entertain the cautious reader. As the series continues to develop, its key elements change and leave the reader wondering what is to come. Sansom admits in the epilogue and some of the accompanying documentation that the rebellions cited here have only more recently been documented effectively on the rebel side, leaving a more balanced approach to the historical record. Sansom can always be counted upon to offer an interesting spin on events known or presumed, forcing the reader outside of their comfort zone as they watch a powerful protagonist assert his own form of control.

Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for helping to mix Tudor history with a strong mystery. I hope that there are more novels to come, as you have a dedicated fan in me, after I stumbled to begin.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: