I’m sorry if I’m beginning to sound like a cracked record, but I continue to love the Matthew Shardlake Tudor detective series by CJ Sansom. Fourth in the series, Revelation, is a roller-coaster ride of killings motivated by the Book of Revelation’s fire and damnation. Shardlake and his assistant Barak race around London struggling to second-guess the murderer’s motivations and identify his next likely target.
Sansom achieves a difficult feat for a historical novelist, he balances world-building – the Tudor toxic politics and Tudor gossip-mongering – will Lady Catherine Parr say yes to the King’s proposal – with Shardlake’s legal world and the fascinating detail and colour which brings London in Spring 1543 to life. Once again we see Shardlake’s vulnerability – when an old friend is murdered in mystifying and frightening circumstances – and his moral strength as he faces the dangers of investigation. These dangers do not threaten only his life but of those around him; they also threaten his position and future, as he is drawn unwillingly again into the circle of the Tudor court where queens, and courtiers, often last only a short time. These are the only historical novels I have read which are truly page-turners in its meaning of ‘one more chapter before I turn out the light’.
Set at a time of radical religious reform, when saying the wrong thing may find you shamed, hanged or burned, Matthew is working on the case of a teenage boy sent to Bedlam hospital. Is he mad, or possessed by the devil? Is he safer in Bedlam or with his parents where he might escape and be burned as a heretic. When Matthew’s friend is found dead in bizarre circumstances he is charged with solving the crime by Archbishop Cranmer. Guy of Malton, former apothecary monk from Dissolution, the first book in the series, is now a doctor and has a theory that excludes God and religion. Could a serial killer be at loose?
If you want to lose yourself in book, to travel to another world and time, then try this series. I am already anticipating the loss when I have read the last book. But the Shardlake books have so much detail and depth with recurring characters who become familiar, I know I will be re-reading them soon.
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