Lover’s lament

23 05 2020

Lamentation by C J Sansom

England, 1546: King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councillors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government of Henry’s successor, eight-year-old Prince Edward. As heretics are hunted across London, and the radical Protestant Anne Askew is burned at the stake, the Catholic party focus their attack on Henry’s sixth wife, Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor, Queen Catherine Parr.

Shardlake, still haunted by events aboard the warship Mary Rose the year before, is working on the Cotterstoke Will case, a savage dispute between rival siblings. Then, unexpectedly, he is summoned to Whitehall Palace and asked for help by his old patron, the now beleaguered and desperate Queen.

For Catherine Parr has a secret. She has written a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner, so radically Protestant that if it came to the King’s attention it could bring both her and her sympathizers crashing down. But, although the book was kept secret and hidden inside a locked chest in the Queen’s private chamber, it has – inexplicably – vanished. Only one page has been found, clutched in the hand of a murdered London printer.

Shardlake’s investigations take him on a trail that begins among the backstreet printshops of London but leads him and Jack Barak into the dark and labyrinthine world of the politics of the royal court; a world he had sworn never to enter again. Loyalty to the Queen will drive him into a swirl of intrigue inside Whitehall Palace, where Catholic enemies and Protestant friends can be equally dangerous, and the political opportunists, who will follow the wind wherever it blows, more dangerous than either.

The theft of Queen Catherine’s book proves to be connected to the terrible death of Anne Askew, while his involvement with the Cotterstoke litigants threatens to bring Shardlake himself to the stake.

Another cracking yarn in the Shardlake series featuring a typical range of entertaining elements from power battles around the dying king to a torturous trail in search of a missing book. As usual it’s a fast-paced and thought-provoking tale which keeps going right to the end. Already looking forward to the next one.

four stars





Right at the heart of the matter

9 05 2020

Heartstone by C J Sansom

 

England, 1545: England is at war. Henry VIII’s invasion of France has gone badly wrong, and a massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the Channel. As the English fleet gathers at Portsmouth, the country raises the largest militia army it has ever seen. The King has debased the currency to pay for the war, and England is in the grip of soaring inflation and economic crisis.

Meanwhile Matthew Shardlake is given an intriguing legal case by an old servant of Queen Catherine Parr. Asked to investigate claims of “monstrous wrongs” committed against a young ward of the court, which have already involved one mysterious death, Shardlake and his assistant Barak journey to Portsmouth.

Once arrived, Shardlake and Barak find themselves in a city preparing to become a war zone; and Shardlake takes the opportunity to also investigate the mysterious past of Ellen Fettiplace, a young woman incarcerated in the Bedlam. The emerging mysteries around the young ward, and the events that destroyed Ellen’s family nineteen years before, involve Shardlake in reunions both with an old friend and an old enemy close to the throne. Events will converge on board one of the King’s great warships, primed for battle in Portsmouth harbour . . .

This story follows a short period after Revelation, reviewed here very recently, and is another fairly gripping tale, the fifth in the series which this time sees Shardlake heading into the heart of the matter as he is caught up in war preparations on the way to Portsmouth. Once there he finds himself in the most frightening of situations on board the King’s warship. There are many other sub-plots to keep matters interesting along the way but, despite its length, this is a pretty compelling yarn from start to finish. This is possibly the best so far and luckily there are a few more to enjoy too…

 





It’s a revelation

2 05 2020

Revelation by C J Sansom

England, 1543: King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, whom he wants for his sixth wife. But this time the object of his affections is resisting. Archbishop Cranmer and the embattled Protestant faction at court are watching keenly, for Lady Catherine is known to have reformist sympathies.

Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is working on the case of a teenage boy, a religious maniac locked in the Bedlam hospital for the insane. Should he be released to his parents, when his terrifying actions could lead to him being burned as a heretic?

When an old friend is horrifically murdered Shardlake promises his widow, for whom he has long had complicated feelings, to bring the killer to justice. His search leads him to both Cranmer and Catherine Parr –and with the dark prophecies of the Book of Revelation.

As London’s Bishop Bonner prepares a purge of Protestants, Shardlake, together with his assistant, Jack Barak, and his friend, Guy Malton, follows the trail of a series of horrific murders that shake them to the core, and which are already bringing frenzied talk of witchcraft and a demonic possession – for what else would the Tudor mind make of a serial killer . . .?

Very much in the ‘if you like Wolf Hall you’ll love this’ series of online book recommendations. But this, the fourth in the series starring the erudite and somewhat improbably well-connected lawyer Matthew Shardlake, shows that it is really a bit different. There’s a bit more blood and guts and down and dirty about it and the fun and games are really getting going in this one. Plenty of twists and sub-plots keep things moving along and the historical backdrop is richly drawn making it a really good read (whether or not you like Wolf Hall which, of course, you do).





No Dominion

10 03 2018

Dominion by C J Sansom

 

1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent auxiliary police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours too about what is happening in the basement of the German Embassy at Senate House.

Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organization is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side. And in a Birmingham mental hospital an incarcerated scientist, Frank Muncaster, may hold a secret that could change the balance of the world struggle for ever.

Civil Servant David Fitzgerald, secretly acting as a spy for the Resistance, is given the mission to rescue his old friend Frank and get him out of the country. Before long he, together with a disparate group of Resistance activists, will find themselves fugitives in the midst of London’s Great Smog; as David’s wife Sarah finds herself drawn into a world more terrifying than she ever could have imagined. And hard on their heels is Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Hoth, brilliant, implacable hunter of men . . .

Sansom presents an alternative history which proves to be as frightening as it is realistic. Imagining a Britain which surrendered in 1940 and where the Nazis rule is he offers a rather unpleasant picture of this country. But it is nevertheless a good yarn which also has some parallels with Sinclair Lewis’s ‘It Can’t Happen Here’. The portrayal of Churchill as resistance leader is a good one and Senate House as the German Embassy looms large over proceedings. The only mild criticism is that it is a bit over-long and, like in the smog, things move rather slowly at times.





They call it progress

9 12 2017

Sovereign by C J Sansom

 

 

Autumn, 1541. King Henry VIII has set out on a spectacular Progress to the North to attend an extravagant submission of his rebellious subjects in York.

Already in the city are lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak. As well as assisting with legal work processing petitions to the King, Shardlake has reluctantly undertaken a special mission for the Archbishop Cranmer – to ensure the welfare of an important but dangerous conspirator being returned to London for interrogation.

But the murder of a local glazier involves Shardlake in deeper mysteries, connected not only to the prisoner in York Castle but to the royal family itself. And when Shardlake and Barak stumble upon a cache of secret papers which could threaten the Tudor throne, a chain of events unfolds that will lead to Shardlake facing the most terrifying fate of the age . . .

This, the third in the Shardlake series, is another entertaining and fast-moving tale which really does feel like it captures the mood of the times. Like its predecessors it is really sharp and well-written and, despite at some points feeling like a sort of Wolf Hall spin off, is well worth a read.





It’s all Greek Fire to me

18 02 2017

Dark Fire by C J Sansom

 

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Second in the Shardlake series…

It is 1540 and the hottest summer of the sixteenth century. Matthew Shardlake, believing himself out of favour with Thomas Cromwell, is busy trying to maintain his legal practice and keep a low profile. But his involvement with a murder case, defending a girl accused of brutally murdering her young cousin, brings him once again into contact with the king’s chief minister – and a new assignment . . .

The secret of Greek Fire, the legendary substance with which the Byzantines destroyed the Arab navies, has been lost for centuries. Now an official of the Court of Augmentations has discovered the formula in the library of a dissolved London monastery. When Shardlake is sent to recover it, he finds the official and his alchemist brother horribly murdered – the formula has disappeared.

Now Shardlake must follow the trail of Greek Fire across Tudor London, while trying at the same time to prove his young client’s innocence. But very soon he discovers nothing is as it seems . . .

It’s a bit Wolf Hall meets Inspector Morse but with extra death. An enjoyable tale with plenty of twists and turns this does keep your interest right to the end. Good historical fun with Greek Fire.

3 star





Monastical mayhem

15 10 2016

Dissolution by C J Sansom

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It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: dissolution.

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes . . .

Have avoided this for a long time because the whole premise just seemed a bit unlikely but, having enjoyed Winter in Madrid, I thought I would give it a go. Anyway, it’s an intelligent and well-written and entertaining whodunnit with a strong Wolf Hall flavour and no worse for that. And there aren’t many books which carry an endorsement from The Tablet on the cover…

stars-3-5.








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