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.

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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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