Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009
The Short Take:
This is the fourth of Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake mysteries, and arguably the best so far. Set in Tudor London, it not only showcases a dicey string of murders, it also highlights the political and religious dangers of that era.
Crime mysteries in a historical setting deliver a double diversion: not only can you enjoy trying to figure out “who done it,” you also gain a keener insight into times long past. In our American era of religious freedom, the Tudor reign of Henry VIII is particularly fascinating… and frightening. Henry declared himself the head of the Church in England, but slowly drifted away from a Protestant stance to something much closer to his old Roman Catholic practices.
The result was from year to year you could be burned for heresy as: a) a Pope-follower, b) a radical Protestant, or c) a person totally confused about what to believe anymore. It was all subject to change with Henry’s next wife, or the beheading of his last advisor.
Drop into the middle of this the hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake, who would like nothing better than to stay out of political and religious controversies but keeps finding himself deeply embroiled. And in danger.
The best news is that if this is your first sojourn into Sansom’s books, you won’t feel like you’re missing something. There are some continuing characters and very slight references to previous cases, but Sansom does an excellent job of keeping his plots well contained between a single book’s covers.
A Little Plot:
A dear friend of Shardlake is murdered in a ghastly fashion and he vows to find the killer. This commitment drags him into a wider conspiracy to keep news of another murder from reaching the king’s ears in order to protect the marriage prospects of Catherine Parr, a Protestant sympathizer who has caught the king’s eye.
The powerful and Protestant-leaning Archbishop Cranmer charges Shardlake to solve these murders with the utmost secrecy. Shardlake soon discovers that the Book of Revelations has inspired what could become a string of dreadful murders and races to solve the case before the murderer strikes again… and again.
If that’s not enough, Shardlake has his own legal cases to deal with, including protecting a teenage boy who cannot quit praying and could easily be burned as a heretic.
Danger lurks everywhere and it’s up to Shardlake to protect everyone — including himself.
I couldn’t find a website for Sansom, but for some additional information and an interview with the author, please click here.