Reviewed by: Caroline Goorney
Author: C. J. Sansom
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0330450799
Price: Various

With the recent Booker Prize mantle having gone to a masterpiece about the life of Thomas Cromwell, perhaps now is the time to revisit CJ Sansom’s superb Tudor thrillers. The ‘Shardlake’ series bursts into the bloody maelstrom of Henry VIII’s Reformation, with the menacing shadow of Cromwell and his henchmen pervading the stories.

Sansom, a former solicitor, has created sympathetic, astute lawyer Matthew Shardlake, tasked to solve murderous crimes against a background of plotting, political machinations and religious persecution.

The first in the series, Dissolution, takes place during Henry’s dismantling of the monasteries. Shardlake is sent to investigate the brutal murder of one of Cromwell’s commissioners at the remote Scarnsea Monastery. Sinister monks, religious fanaticism, wild theories and the exciting conclusion make this one of those immensely satisfying, escapist books we all long for as an antidote to stressful lives. And the great thing is there are four more in the series, not only equally gripping and enjoyable, but also firmly establishing the troubled lawyer’s small circle of trusted friends.

Sansom manages to credibly weave into his stories many real characters from King Henry’s court such as Cromwell, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Richard Rich, who was the solicitor general and subsequently chancellor of the court of augmentations. The many references to Lincoln’s Inn where Shardlake has his chambers create an instantly credible backdrop.

In Matthew Shardlake, the author has created a highly attractive yet flawed character, blending self-doubt, lack of ego, shrewdness and humanity – ideal traits for a good lawyer perhaps?

Caroline Goorney is a solicitor at Gordon Brown Law