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Dark Fire
Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery, No 2

By C J Sansom

     Matthew Shardlake, the gloomy, hunchbacked lawyer from Dissolution, is back to solve another case. Not so fresh from his misadventures in Scarnsea, he hopes that he won't have to work for Thomas Cromwell again, but is proved thoroughly wrong. As the king's interest in Anne of Cleves wanes, so does Cromwell's power, and he wants to make one last-ditch attempt to please the fickle monarch. The formula for Greek Fire, the secret weapon of the ancient world has been found and this is just the stuff to confound the king's enemies - but is it the real thing? Matthew has his own agenda - to prove the innocence of a young girl accused of killing her cousin - and only twelve days to find and test the formula.

      Dissolution was a highly acclaimed book, appealing not only to historical crime buffs but also to mainstream readers and those with more literary taste. However, if you like thrilling tales of derring-do with a breathless plot and heroic protagonist, you might well find this wanting as the misanthropic Matthew plods slowly around London, often missing more clues than he finds, and not having much of an idea how to go about investigating anything.

     But this is not a procedural, and neither is it a fantasy, so though you may yawn at the pace, you can loudly applaud the realism. Short of a time machine, it is probably impossible to get more under the skin of the Reformation. This was a frightening time when the comforts of the old religion had been stripped away and a capricious king had long since stopped being "Bluff King Hal." Matthew is nobody's hero, but comes across as a very real person who deals with an unfamiliar situation as we might ourselves - by feeling his way. Uncompromising and gritty, this weighty tome could be used to prop open a door, but you might be better off just reading it.

     I'm sure there will be a third in the series.

Reviews of other titles in this series

Dark Fire

The Book

Macmillan UK
5 November 2004
Historical Crime [1540 London]
More at US || UK

The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2005
© 2005