One of my favourite authors is C.J. Sansom, and one of my favourite characters is his Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake. The most recent novel ‘Tombland’, set in Norwich, was published in 2018, and I fear that it may be his last. Here is what I wrote when it was published but I was yet to read it. I was not disappointed, it was a stunning novel, and so interesting as well as being exhaustingly compulsive!
Everyone I know who is a reader is delighted that C.J. Sansom has written another book about his sixteenth century lawyer, Matthew Shardlake.
I do read a great variety of different books, but I am not very keen on historical novels, not sure why, so when several years ago – probably about twelve years ago, the first book in the series, Dissolution was chosen by my book club, I wondered what I would think… it didn’t take long to dispel any doubts about it, I was plunged into the winter of 1537. Matthew is en route to a monastery which is in effect being dismantled; he is charged with discovering what has happened to the previous commissioner who has been found dead. The bitter wintery opening and set in a monastery reminded me a little of Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’ which is also a murder mystery.
Having read that first novel, I was very excited to find there were another couple to read in the series, ‘Dark Fire’ which I enjoyed very much but some of the book club didn’t as much, and then, ‘Sovereign’, another great read. We had to wait a couple of years for ‘Revelation’, and then, in 2010, ‘Heartstone’ was published, and that is my favourite. Part of the story is set on the mighty warship The Mary Rose, and even though everyone knows what tragedy befell it, there is so much suspense and tension in this novel, I stayed up way, way beyond my bedtime, which was very late even for a night owl like me.
After such a tour de force, I really wondered if it was possible for another book to follow… Two years later, a non-Shardlake book was published, ‘Dominion’ which I found a much more challenging read, and I can’t say I enjoyed it, maybe I should try reading it again. I had similarly struggled over his other non-Tudor book which was set during the Spanish Civil War, ‘Winter in Madrid’. So many of my friends love it that I think I must give that another read too.
I was surprised but delighted when ‘Lamentation’ brought Shardlake back. There were several aspects of that book which were quite challenging – but an excellent lesson to other writers. I’ve often mentioned that some authors seem to become too fond of their characters and allow them to behave and do things which stretch credulity or irritate fussy readers like me. Without giving anything away, ‘Lamentation’ does not do this.
Now, oh joy, ‘Tombland’ sits resplendent waiting for me to pick up again – the latest of Matthew Shardlake’s quests to find the truth. It starts in the summer of 1549, and in a realistic way, Matthew has aged. Since the close of the previous books he has in his fictional world been much taken up with his legal work… and it’s apparent that it has become dull. He doesn’t want to risk his life during these difficult times of the troubled reign of the new young king, Edward VI; Edward is only nine years old and he is under the protection of powerful men… but Matthew wants a little excitement.
I’m only in the opening chapters so I can say no more, and won’t – I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else!! If you are fortunate enough not to have read any of these books, what a treat you have – if the weather changes and it becomes truly autumnal, you can curl up with Matthew Shardlake!
Here’s a link to find out more:
PS We’re now in the depths of a mildish winter, but with the current situation, escaping int a brilliant book is just the thing!