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CJ Sansom

 

Revelation  - 24

Reading a series of books out of sequence is not a particularly good idea, but it didn't seem to detract too much from this fifth novel by CJ Sansom. It is the fourth in the Matthew Shardlake series set in the 16th century during the reign of Henry VIII. It follows the adventures of hunchback lawyer Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak as they hunt a serial killer and investigate the reasons for a teenage boy to be locked up in the Bedlam hospital for the insane. It is a carefully crafted book with plenty of twists and turns and enough personal details about the main characters to make them interesting. Above all it is an excellent evocation of London at the time - the violence, the filth and the dangers. Certainly one of my favourite books of the year.

Dissolution by  - 23

Back to the Shardlake Novels. This was the first in the series and not surprisingly for a book set in the reign of Henry VIII deals primarily with the dissolution of the monasteries. England is undergoing vast changes, not all of which are designed to modernise the country. London still has a seedy seam. Nobody is safe from wagging tongues and those all too eager to rat on a colleague or even a friend and the consequences can be dire. Thomas Cromwell is investigating the monasteries and that can lead to only one thing - dissolution. Much of the action takes place on the Sussex coast at Scarnsea where Cromwell's commissioner has been found murdered and Scarnsea's great relic has been stolen Shardlake is sent to investigate and once again places himself in perilous danger. Once again this novel gives a wonderful evocation of the times with plenty of twists and turns before the truth is revealed.

Dark Fire  - 24

The second in the Shardlake series  revolves around a legendary substance - Greek Fire - which is capable of destroying buildings with tongues of fire. The discovery of a formula for Greek Fire leads to a gruesome double murder and a journey across London to try and discover the truth. As well as doing this Shardlake has the job of proving the innocence of a young client, imprisoned for a murder that it looks likely she did not commit. But of course being the 16th century everybody has to be guarded about what they say and to whom they say it. So when Shardlake's client refuses to talk, things become even more involved. Again another wonderful portrayal of London during Henry's reign.

Sovereign - 24

More than any of the other  Shardlake novels, this one illustrates just what it was like to live in Tudor England and how the King was falling apart. It brings out the power of the opposition to Henry VIII, the intricate tapestries of Tudor life and the violence and corrupt nature of the time. It is ironic that what I believe to be the best of the Shardlake novels is the last one I visited.

\it revolves around Henry's progress (visit) with a huge entourage from London to York - a journey that today would take a mere three hours but which in those times took months - how the world has changed.

The royal and not so royal people of Yorkshire have stepped out of line. Sadly Henry has begun to turn into the bloated figure that we now associate him with. If this is a public relations exercise it is one that goes wrong. There are murders, plots, sub plots aplenty and an earth shattering discovery which if found to be true could change the course of British history.

Sansom's command of historical details is once again excellent. You can almost smell the festering sores on Henry's legs. Shardlake and his sidekick Jack Barak are beautifully drawn characters and there is a sinister dark feel to the novel that adds to its effectiveness.