CWA Historical Dagger
Matthew Shardlake is back in Lamentation, from the number one bestselling author C. J. Sansom.
King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councillors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government of Henry's successor, eight-year-old Prince Edward. As heretics are hunted across London, and the radical Protestant Anne Askew is burned at the stake, the Catholic party focus their attack on Henry's sixth wife, Matthew Shardlake's old mentor, Queen Catherine Parr.
Shardlake, still haunted by events aboard the warship Mary Rose the year before, is working on the Cotterstoke Will case, a savage dispute between rival siblings. Then, unexpectedly, he is summoned to Whitehall Palace and asked for help by his old patron, the now beleaguered and desperate Queen.
For Catherine Parr has a secret. She has written a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner, so radically Protestant that if it came to the King's attention it could bring both her and her sympathizers crashing down. But, although the book was kept secret and hidden inside a locked chest in the Queen's private chamber, it has - inexplicably - vanished. Only one page has been found, clutched in the hand of a murdered London printer.
Shardlake's investigations take him on a trail that begins among the backstreet printshops of London but leads him and Jack Barak into the dark and labyrinthine world of the politics of the royal court; a world he had sworn never to enter again. Loyalty to the Queen will drive him into a swirl of intrigue inside Whitehall Palace, where Catholic enemies and Protestant friends can be equally dangerous, and the political opportunists, who will follow the wind wherever it blows, more dangerous than either.
The theft of Queen Catherine's book proves to be connected to the terrible death of Anne Askew, while his involvement with the Cotterstoke litigants threatens to bring Shardlake himself to the stake.
The previous books in the bestselling Shardlake series are Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation and Heartstone.
In the media
This gripping new novel by the inventive C. J. Sansom shows that, when it comes to intriguing Tudor-based narratives, Hilary Mantel has a serious rival. Mantel isn't the only novelist to keep the Tudor flag flying in the bestseller lists. The first two novels in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy - Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012) - have won phenomenal acclaim as well as two Man Booker prizes. But years before she began that enterprise C. J. Sansom had embarked on a brilliantly inventive Tudor fiction sequence, whose five novels have brought him an enormously enthusiastic and widespread readership, too. Like Mantel's, Sansom's first two novels - Dissolution (2003) and Dark Fire (2004) - are set during Cromwell's time as Henry VIII's chief minister. But, in contrast to her mannered approach and enthralled fixation on Cromwell, his fiction has a far faster narrative pace and fans out across a much broader field. Ingeniously, it achieves this by combining a keen scholarly intelligence with the suspense and surprises of the detective genre. A Scottish historian who had a career in law before turning to fiction, Sansom finds an ideal protagonist in Matthew Shardlake, the humane hunchbacked lawyer-sleuth in his Tudor novels. He also finds the Tudor period intensely congenial to his imagination. Atmospheres of oppression and wariness, in which careless words or an ill-advised allegiance can be fatal, engross Sansom. Exploring different types of fiction, he has published two non-Tudor novels - Winter in Madrid (2006), a spy story located in the traumatised Spanish capital after the civil war, and Dominion (2012), an "alternate history" set in a 1952 Britain which is a dingy satellite of the Third Reich. Franco and Hitler loom over terrorised societies in both these books. In his Tudor novels, Henry VIII does so. A 16th-century portrait of Catherine Parr: Sansom is fascinated by Henry VIII's sixth wife. Sansom likes to vary his fiction's forms, and the Shardlake novels range from a closed-community whodunit in a snowbound monastery (Dissolution) to the quest for a deadly weapon of war (Dark Fire), a political thriller (Sovereign, 2006), a serial-killer story (Revelation, 2008) and a legal thriller (Heartstone, 2010). What unites them is the havoc wreaked by Henry VIII's brutal ideological vacillations, as the nation is ripped apart by sectarian fanaticism and splendours of ecclesiastical architecture are reduced to rubble . . . Partly a detective story as Shardlake solves the how and why of the theft, partly a thriller with casualties mounting in the search for the book's whereabouts, partly a panoramic re-creation of the turbulent London of 1546, from the court's gilded warren of intrigue to publishers' makeshift huts in the shadow of St Paul's, Lamentation is sure to give Sansom's many fans further cause for jubilation.
Shardlake's back and better than ever . . . The plot and pacing make this the best Shardlake yet . . . it is a vision of how individuals find the moral courage to fight injustice which links the Shardlake novels to Sansom's other fictions, Winter in Madrid and Dominion. Lamentation, like its predecessors, is a triumph both as detective fiction and as a novel . . . Sansom's deep feeling for the psychology of religious faith and for the defenceless, makes him, in my view superior to Hilary Mantel.
Independent on Sunday
Lamentation starts with the burning of heretics, and the smell of fear and dissent infuses the whole novel . . . Sansom is highly skilled at weaving together the threads of his plot with the real and riveting history . . . Lamentation is a wonderful, engaging read. The atmosphere of fear and suspicion is brilliantly rendered. Shardlake is always convincing, and he is endearingly battle-scarred and weary from his earlier adventures. The real characters are well drawn, especially Catherine Parr and the young Elizabeth, who makes a striking cameo appearance. Sansom cleverly keeps the king just off stage for most of the novel. We can sense him lurking in the shadows - a monstrously obese and malevolent presence. As the plot draws to a clever and satisfying conclusion, Sansom gives us a clue about where the king's death will take Shardlake; and it is a spine-tingling prospect.
As always, Sansom conjures the atmosphere, costumes and smells of Tudor London with vigour, from the gilded halls of Whitehall Palace to the dungeons of the Tower . . . once Shardlake finds himself in real jeopardy [the novel] quickly picks up pace, all the way to a shocking climax that promises to mark a new chapter for Shardlake, and for England.