Thursday, September 23, 2010
Hark! The New Matthew Shardlake Mystery, Heartstone Is Here!
Okay. You loved Wolf Hall. You are longing for Hilary Mantel to finish her next book about Thomas Cromwell. When will that be? I do not know my friend but not as soon as you want it to be finished for sure. Need something to tide you over? Something smart to keep your thanks to our girl Hilary appetite for 1500's English politics in check? Well then I am coming to your rescue. There is a superb mystery series available to satisfy your Henry the VIII and Co. needs, the Matthew Shardlake mysteries by C.J. Sansom.
England in the 1530's is a tough place. The next new plague is just around the corner, Henry the VIII is constantly trolling for a new wives and The Reformation is creating a new Christianity and new criminals every day. In the first Shardlake novel, Dissolution, one of these criminals has seemingly committed several murders in a monastery. The deaths themselves are bad enough but given the times they might lead to the immediate closing of the monastery itself. Henry has been confiscating property owned by the Catholic Church for his own enrichment and to award to loyal courtiers. Sent by Henry's henchman, Thomas Cromwell, lawyer Matthew Shardlake finds himself hunting for a murderer and his own ideals.
The Shardlake mysteries are outstanding. The blending of historical fact with well written fiction and compelling, page turning mystery is a formidable accomplishment. Each one of the books takes you further into the social and political turmoil of the period. Shardlake is a detective in the classic mode. He is intelligent, street smart, compassionate, morally upright and has a sidekick but every detective has a foible or quirk that sets them apart from general society in some way. With Shardlake it's that he is a hunchback. Remember this is 500 years ago so he is a freak, someone who should not have survived infancy, someone who as an adult with such a noticeable deformity would have been shunned. Luck, determination and brains have brought him into a position of respect and power but his appearance will guarantee his isolation and makes him a target for any ambitious citizen.
Sansom's latest book is Heartstone. It is now 1545. Henry has invaded France and he is now on wife #6, Catherine Parr. It is at Parr's request that Shardlake turns from his usual work to investigate the suicide of the son of a former lady-in-waiting. This case will take Shardlake through the legal system surrounding wards of the court. That was an institution that was a primary source of income for the royal family. There is never just one story in a Shardlake mystery and Heartstone is no exception. Most authors would divvy up the amount of juicy characters, finely woven plot and impeccable research you find in Heartstone into three separate books.
There are five novels in this series: Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation and now Heartstone. The first four titles are available (from your local independent bookstore of course) in paperback. Heartstone is due out in hardcover September 28th. All five mysteries are memorably entertaining and comprise one of the best history classes you could ever take.
Happy to be Henry-ized once again