The Matthew Shardlake series by CJ Sansom continues to get better. Heartstone, the penultimate book of the six, involves a puzzle which kept me guessing until the reveal. Despite Shardlake vowing to take a back seat from Royal intrigues, the Tudor lawyer/detective is pulled into a case at the behest of Queen Catherine Parr. This is a great series to lose yourself in.
A tutor, son of one of the Queen’s staff, has alleged an injustice done against a former pupil, Hugh Curteys, by the Hobbey family who adopted Hugh and his sister Emma after the death of their parents. This complaint takes Shardlake before the Court of Wards, not Shardlake’s natural territory, where the lives and rights of orphaned minors are protected. In truth, it is rife with fraud and abuse and the case brings Shardlake face-to-face with old and new enemies.
A journey into Hampshire at the time King Henry VIII is mobilising his army and navy south to oppose the expected invasion by the French, is ill-advised. Normal life is suspended as Henry distributes new coinage, devalued to pay for his war, and men are conscripted in the fields and the streets. But Shardlake, as ever driven by the desire to correct injustice, becomes the scourge of the Hobbey family at Hoyland Priory, north of Portsmouth. Despite the misgivings of his clerk, Jack Barack, Shardlake also takes the opportunity to research another mystery; Ellen Fettiplace, a patient at Bedlam who featured in earlier novels, was born in a Sussex village and Shardlake takes the opportunity to research the events which led to her madness and imprisonment.
This is a clever series with legal cases providing the puzzles and Tudor politics – and this time, war – providing the scheming, manipulative characters. With the story climaxing on board the Mary Rose as it sets sail against the French, we all know the history but cannot know Shardlake’s part in it. This is a long book, encompassing the Curteys and Fettiplace mysteries and the preparations for war as Shardlake and Barak travel south with a company of archers destined to fight on one of the great warships. Stuffed with history and fascinating detail.
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