Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Murder in Tudor England: Heartstone
Heartstone: a Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery by C.J. Sansom
Reviewed by Susan Wolfe
With two compelling mysteries wrapped up into one book, this page turner is set during the twilight of the reign of Henry VIII. The plot flows smoothly yet there are plenty of twists that you won’t see coming.
Shardlake is the Columbo of Tudor England. He is a lawyer and does his own detective work. He’s a hunchback who handles himself with wit and intelligence. He has managed to antagonize or offend many members of Henry’s court, though he is a favorite of Queen Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s wives.
On behalf of one of her servants, he is hired to investigate a claim that a noble orphan is being cheated of his property. This takes him to the Court of Wards, known as the most corrupt of the various courts. Shardlake has another case - one that he's been involved with for a while, that of a woman who might (or might not) be wrongly imprisoned in London's Bedlam mental hospital.
Shardlake's involvement in the case of the ward and inheritance takes him to visit the young man in an area near to coast. Coincidentally, the woman in Bedlam is also from that area and Shardlake takes the opportunity to look into her background. The king has declared war on France, ant this area is the projected landing site of the French fleet. Shardlake and his assistant Barack are setting forth on their journey, along with the opposing lawyer and his clerk, to this potential battle area.
The protagonist, Shardlake, has his faults as well as virtues. The other characters are multi-dimensional and well fleshed out. Set when the country is gearing up for war, the historical details are fantastic. The early “draft” and military organization is interesting. The sinking of the “Mary Rose,” the English fleet’s pride, is realistic and emotional. The author has certainly done his research. However, the historical background doesn’t overpower the story: it just makes it more credible.
This book is part of a series, one that I have just recently discovered. The story is richly developed and a pleasure to read. Look for it at Main under F SAN.