Wow. C J Sansom’s first novel in his Shardlake series is excellent. A murder mystery set in the turbulent years after Anne Boleyn’s execution and when the dissolution of corrupt monastic houses was underway, Sansom depicts a vivid world with larger than life characters.
Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer and a reformist and as such, trusted by Thomas Cromwell. Having orchestrated the fall of Henry VIII’s second and most controversial queen Cromwell had turned to rooting out papists and ensuring all holy houses swore an oath of loyalty to the king’s supremacy over their church. The murder of one of his commissioners in a monastery in Kent could draw unwanted attention and suspicion over the desired submission of the house. Enter Shardlake. In Cromwell’s favour and eager to prove his loyalty to the Vicar-General, Shardlake is dispatched along with his ward Mark Poer to seek the truth of the commissioner’s murder quickly and efficiently. However, as soon as he arrives it is clear the monastery at Scarnsea holds many secrets and lies.
Like any good murder mystery everyone is under suspicion and many clues point to different culprits. As the days pass more scandalous events occur that keep you guessing at what exactly had happened. I gasped so many times while reading and i was desperate to learn who the murderer was. The protagonist was endearing and likeable, Sansom certainly created an unforgettable narrator. He cleverly intertwines factual events with current historical theories into his fictional plot with ease. The writing was a joy to read and the expert descriptions plunge readers into the tumultuous sixteenth century.
I recommend this for anyone who enjoys historical fiction and whodunnit murder mysteries. It is not quite as fast paced as perhaps more stereotypical plots in the genre but it fits with the Shardlake’s character and the period in which it is set.
Devoured this in two sittings and cannot wait to go and buy the second in the series, Dark Fire!