The Matthew Shardlake series by CJ Sansom is now my joint favourite series, along with Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles. The two series could not be different but they have one key thing in common: both are densely textured with social history that enlivens the story of such well-drawn characters. Lamentation is sixth in the Shardlake series, set at a critical time for the politics of England’s religion and for its ailing ruler, Henry VIII. The king is slowly dying. Surrounded by loyal courtiers who disguise the true reality of his incapacity from the public, a power battle is underway for the influence of the king’s heir, his eight-year-old son Edward. As always at this time, we see Protestant versus Catholic set against the background of recovery from war the previous year with France when the Mary Rose was sunk in battle at Portsmouth. Heretics are being burned, an amnesty of banned books is announced and the haters of reformers such as Queen Catherine Parr attempt to smear her reputation. When Shardlake is called to Whitehall Palace to meet the Queen’s uncle, Lord Parr, he can never have expected the mess the Queen has got herself into. She has written a religious pamphlet ‘Lamentation of a Sinner’ which, if it falls into the wrong hands might see her burnt at the stake. She has kept it secret, even from her quixotic husband who may burn her if she tells him or burn her if she keeps it hidden from him. She hesitates, thinking it safely locked in a chest. But the document has vanished. The Queen asks Shardlake to retrieve it and save her honour, and her life.
Shardlake’s trail takes him back and forth across London from royal palaces to printers in the backstreets and meeting houses for radicals. Unwilling to draw his assistant Jack Barack into danger, he enlists the help of his young pupil Nicolas Overton. And all the time, Shardlake can’t shake the feeling he is being watched. As well as seeking the ‘Lamentation’, Shardlake has other difficulties. An ongoing case representing Isabel Slanning in a probate battle with her brother is turning toxic, Matthew’s relationship with Doctor Guy Malton is awkward as religious differences – Guy is a Catholic, Matthew is no longer sure what he believes in – widen, and his new steward does his job but is not likeable. And all the time he is working for the Queen, Shardlake entertains wistful romantic thoughts.
There are fascinating glimpses of characters we know from history who are key in the post-Henry VIII world. Prince Edward. The Princesses Mary and Elizabeth. Lord Cecil. Which makes the next book in the series, Tombland, particularly enticing.
The stakes are the highest yet. Magnificent.
BUY THE BOOK
Here are my reviews of the first five books in the series:-
If you like this, try:-
‘Blackberry and Wild Rose’ by Sonia Velton
‘The Last Hours’ by Minette Walters
‘The Wonder’ by Emma Donoghue
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#BookReview LAMENTATION by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5qW via @SandraDanby