Back in 2003, on a gloomy Sunday morning, I was casually scouring the shelves at Barnes and Noble, in search of something – anything – to read, when I came across Dissolution, by CJ Sansom. There wasn’t anything special about the cover – a half-shadowed monk, hands clasped in front of him, kneeling in prayer, set against a dark (albeit-gloomy) background – but, the words ‘International Bestseller’ and ‘a novel of Tudor England’ caught my eye.
As is my habit (before purchasing a new book), I sat down in one of B&N’s comfortable chairs and I cracked it open, to read a few paragraphs and get a feel for it; (I had a few others in my hands, as well). First off, there was a great illustrated map of an old monastery (St. Donatus); next, was a list of the book’s guest-players (in this case, all of the monks/suspects at the monastery); then, Chapter 1 began – in first-person, mind – Matthew Shardlake, himself, began to tell this captivating tale, and before I knew it, the gloomy day (and the stack of hopefuls) were forgotten. I couldn’t put it down…
Thus began my (now) 12-year obsession with the Matthew Shardlake Mystery series, and with its award-winning writer, C.J. Sansom. God’s wounds! Has it really been that long?! I know it has, because I’ve been drooling at the mouth like a rabid dog for the past six months, awaiting his sixth book in the series, Lamentation. It’s been five lonnnnnnnng years, since Heartstone came out.
Mr. Sansom did not disappoint his loyal fans, either; indeed – Sansom has surpassed all expectations with Lamentation, leaving me spellbound by his mastery and in-awe of this lastest triumph in literary perfection! Not to mention, leaving me (yet, again) to avidly await the next installment in Shardlake’s oft-precarious and adventurous life.
If you’ve never read a Shardlake Mystery, I describe it to folks, like this: think of it as C.S.I.: London; only – with a hunchback lawyer/detective, set in King Henry VIII’s court, where a misstep could result in his being sent to the stake or with his neck under the axe.
As I said, there have been six books in this series, thus-far; throughout, I have been face-to-face (through Shardlake/Sansom’s narrative) with the likes of Thomas Cromwell, Archbishop Cranmer, Richard Rich, not to mention, ol’ ‘off with their head!’ Henry, himself. Two of the books bring Shardlake into the inner-court of Queen Catherine Parr; in another, Sovereign, that of Catherine Howard, as King Henry sets out on a vast progress from London to York!
I’ve been in the dark-storied Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court, Whitehall Palace, on the Mary Rose (Henry’s prized warship) as it was sinking, taking a wherry on the Thames, to bear baitings, I’ve been in sword fights and have been in battles (both on the field of war, and in the courtroom), I’ve seen the beheadings of Henry’s wives and the executions of alleged heretics – the list goes on and on. Sansom accounts for everything, down to the smallest detail.
Needless-to-say, C.J. Sansom delivers solid, impeccably-researched history, rich, (sometimes magnificent, sometimes gruesome) details, thoroughly enjoyable entertainment, and – of course, mystery; placing Matthew Shardlake – and his loyal sidekick, Jack Barak, (he joins Matthew in the second book, Dark Fire), into dangerous court politics and intrigues, that could leave them without their heads at every turn of the page.
I cannot recommend these books highly-enough. You’ll just have to pick one up and see for yourself, why I love them so. Here’s a list of the Matthew Shardlake Mysteries (in their order of publication) and how I rate them…
1) Dissolution – 2003 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
2) Dark Fire – 2004 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
3) Sovereign – 2006 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
4) Revelation – 2008 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
5) Heartstone – 2010 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
6) Lamentation – 2015 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Well – what’re you waitin’ on? By Jesu’ move your bloody arse and get your copies, today!