Date: June 2003
it at Amazon US
Historical Crime [1537, London & Sussex, England]
Rachel A Hyde
Shardlake Tudor Mystery, No 1
By C J Sansom
VIII's dissolution of the monasteries saw the greatest religious
revolution ever to happen in Britain since the introduction of Christianity.
It is a time when people inform on each other, nobody can be trusted
and when faith itself is in question. Thomas Cromwell's commissioners
sweep across the land investigating the monasteries for a hint of
corruption, and one of them is found decapitated at the monastery
of St Donatus at Scarnsea on the Sussex coast. Cromwell sends melancholy
hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake to find out whodunit, but as
events become more and more tangled and the body count rises, Shardlake
finds that this is not the only thing he has to discover.
In a way this book is the antithesis
of Ellis Peters and her many imitators whose mysteries are somehow
cozy and a comfortable read. No warm bath, more a chilly dip in
the Sussex marshes but a more cerebral experience all around. Here
is the same framework as the "cozies", but Shardlake finds
out not just the perpetrator of the crime but many truths about
himself and those he admires. Sansom is adept at drawing his readers
into the story as Shardlake himself is the narrator (always a good
ploy to grab attention and keep it) and his descriptions of the
catastrophic monastery in the depths of winter are wonderfully tangible.
He has wisely kept to a small cast of memorable characters whose
tale is played out in an equally claustrophobic milieu, serving
as a microcosm of what is happening in the rest of the country.
There are parallels too with our own times, as corrupt statesmen
hatch plots and the result is a compelling picture of a disastrous
period of history that will have far-reaching consequences even
into our own times. I did feel that at times the pace was a little
slow and the action repetitive; it could have stood some editing
which would have made it tauter and more effective. But overall
I do feel that this is one of the standout historical crime novels
of the year. I look forward to part two.
of other titles in this series