I didn’t expect my phone line/cable line going down for three days hence no updates. My apologies for not scheduling this post when I had the opportunity to do so. Without further ado, this next guest post is by Sarah Tanner, who blogs at Monkey Bear Reviews where she reviews romance and mystery among other topics. Sarah’s mentioned C.J. Sansom to me many times and with so many books, I keep overlooking him. I plan to rectify that soon. Her post is after the break. Again, if there are other readers out there interested in submitting a guest post on a mystery writer they enjoy who may not be all that popular but are very good, drop me a line.
C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series (in reading order):
One of my favourite historical mystery writers is C.J. Sansom. He writes the excellent Tudor mystery series featuring the hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake. The series is an interesting blend of historical detail, strong characterization, and wonderful storytelling.
In addition to the Shardlake books, Sansom wrote a stand alone novel, Winter in Madrid. This is set during the Spanish Civil War, and is well worth reading.
The first book in the Shardlake series is called Dissolution (2003). Here’s the blurb:
Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church and the country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. Under the order of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent through the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: the monasteries are to be dissolved.
But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege – a black cockerel sacrificed on the alter, and the disappearance of Scarnsea’s Great Relic.
Dr Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell into this atmosphere of treachery and death. But Shardlake’s investigation soon forces him to question everything he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes…
Matthew Shardlake is a great character. He’s grumpy, stubborn to a fault, and has an unfortunate tendency to fall in love with women who don’t reciprocate his feelings. Shardlake’s disability colours people’s perceptions of him, and also his perception of himself. His intelligence and brilliant legal skills make him rise above his deformity when it comes to his professional life. His personal life, however, is another story. His fellow lawyers fear him in the court room, but laugh about him behind his back; children jeer him in the street; and women pity but don’t fall in love with him.
One of the strengths of the series is Shardlake’s developing character arc. He starts out as staunch supporter of the Reformation, but gradually becomes disillusioned by the greed and corruption of the scholars and politicians he’d once admired. The series has a rich cast of secondary characters including Shardlake’s assistant, Jack Barak, and his close friend, Guy Malton, a former monk and talented apothecary.
Matthew Shardlake’s Tudor England is dark, gritty, and brutal. If you like historical mysteries which are rich in period detail, and also feature interesting plots, I can highly recommend this series.