Wednesday, 1 September 2010

CJ Sansom, Heartstone (London: Mantle/Macmillan, 2010)

It is the summer of 1545 and the king prepares for war with France. Master Matthew Shardlake, the lawyer who has been keeping his head down and trying not to attract the attention of those many grasping and ruthless courtiers who seem to congregate around Henry and his queens, receives a letter from Queen Catherine Parr. He cannot refuse her request to investigate what has led to the suicide of the son of one of the queen's old servants. It is a hopeless case. He and his opposite number, the very disagreeable Master Dyrick, are charged with travelling to Hampshire to take depositions. While there Shardlake decides to make inquiries about a woman he has been visiting in Bedlam and the circumstances that lead to her madness. Thus Shardlake finds himself weaving in and out of two slowly unfolding, terrible, stories. Things come to a head when he must confront enemies old and new on board the Mary Rose.

Sansom is in great form in this marvellous novel. He has a wonderful sense for atmosphere, especially in the Herician court. His vulnerable hunchback lawyer is a figure always on the outside, wanting to be accepted but at the same time resisting being involved since it only leads to danger. The religious upheaval is another wonderful context: everyone is under suspicion and suspects each other. An old cleric, a little too nostalgic for the 'old ways', in a discussion about faith with Shardlake mentions that he doesn't like mysteries, that he needs to solve them. This is true in many ways: Shardlake looks first for the human hand behind the unexplained. The novel is long but not, I think, overlong. It also skillfully sets up the next installment, with a brief but memorable meeting with the young daughter of Anne Boleyn, the Lady Elizabeth. She will, inevitably, play some part in the next novel. In fact, I think she'd have rather enjoyed reading this novel and when you read you'll know why.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...