Tuesday 12 March 2013

'Heartstone' by C.J.Sansom, reviewed by Pauline Chandler

Every so often, as an adult, you come across a series of books which you relish like cream cakes! CJ Sansom’s Shardlake novels, set during the turbulent reign of Henry VIII, are exceptional treats for any grown-up history fan. 

The main character, Matthew Shardlake, is a lawyer with court connections, who sets out to solve mysteries and murders, at great personal risk.  He's a wonderfully sympathetic character, and relentless in pursuit of truth and justice. He’s a good man, too, a friend to the poor, some of whom he employs in his household. He's also a hunchback, in an age when physical flaws were seen as the mark of the Devil, but Matthew stoically bears all insults - mostly: he's quite capable with sword and fists, if the need arises. Matthew’s close friends and companions, Jack Barak and Guy of Malton, are also engaging characters, with their own stories to enjoy.  

One of most impressive aspects of these novels is the depiction of Tudor life. This it total immersion:  every word, gesture, detail of place, clothing, food, weapons training, life at home and on the street, on board ship, or in the countryside, is used naturally and, I’m sure, accurately.

In ‘Heartstone’, Matthew accepts a commission from Queen Catherine Parr, to investigate a mystery for one of the Queen’s favourite ladies-in-waiting. Bess Calfhill grieves for the supposed ‘suicide’ of her son, Michael, tutor to David, son of the wealthy Hobbey family, and Hugh and Emma Curteys, orphans and wards of David’s father, landowner, Nicholas Hobbey.   

Hugh and Emma stand to inherit a valuable parcel of woodland, adjoining Hobbey land.  When Emma dies from smallpox, Michael is dismissed. 

Later, he tells his mother that he has discovered ‘something frightful’ about the Hobbey family and that he has applied to the Court of Wards for Hugh to be removed from their care. Before the case can be heard, Michael is found hanged. 

Matthew’s quest takes him to Southampton where King Henry is assembling a fleet to counter a threatened French invasion.  As well as his investigations for the Queen, Matthew embarks on a private mission, to find out what happened to Ellen Fettiplace, an inmate of Bedlam. Ellen intrigues him, as someone sane and capable, who works as a member of staff in the asylum, yet is kept prisoner, within its walls, by traumatic events in her past. 

The final part of the story tells of a sea battle with the French, in Southampton water, ending with the spectacular loss of the king’s great warship, the Mary Rose, with Matthew on board, fighting for his life, against vicious enemies. 
Highly recommended.

Pauline Chandler 2013



adele said...

Couldn't agree more! Love the Shardlake books too.And another interesting take on Cromwell...not like Hilary Mantel's.

ifoughtthelawandiwon said...

Portsmouth, not Southampton

Pauline said...

Yes, Portsmouth, not Southampton! I do apologise!

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