The Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mysteries start out really good and just get better. There are five of them now and, having just finished the fifth, I am bereft. I can’t find any evidence of a sixth on the horizon (though I’m sure there has to be one soon) and I have that feeling there is nothing else worth reading (which will pass). They are a triumph of people, plot and prose.
Set in the latter years of Henry the VIII’s reign, lawyer Shardlake is drawn into the corruption and turbulence of the political landscape time and again, when all he wants is a quiet life. He is not adventurous or daring by nature, but he has demanding patrons, like Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr. These and many other historical characters weave into the stories and even bad boy, King Henry, makes an appearance in the third book.
Author, C J Sansom, is brilliant at weaving just enough historical fact, into compelling, page-turner plots, with rounded, sympathetic characters. Sansom has a PhD in History and was a practicing lawyer, so he is well informed about the back story of the Tudor courts and the tremendous upheaval of religious persecution and political maneuvering which was rampant in this era. The Tower, Bedlam, the execution block, the rack, the King’s “Progress” to York, the naval battles of the war of 1545, the sinking of the warship Mary Rose, the Book of Revelation, and the ancient, incendiary weapon known as Greek fire are all featured prominently at some point in these five stories. Pretty grim, you might think, and you would be right.
But Shardlake is the counterpoint of dignity and kindness in the midst of the insanity and he brings his compassion and brilliance to bear on every case he is thrust into. With a supporting cast of interesting and feisty characters, the books manage to create a bit of light in the darkness that was Henry’s reign. In the end, these are intriguing and engrossing stories which keep you coming back for more. Don’t plan on doing anything important for a few days after you begin one.
Start with Dissolution, a mystery embedded in the chaotic time when Cromwell oversaw the dismantling of monasteries all over England.