Review of Revelation – Book 4 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom

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Like your whodunit with a twist of history? Well, look no further than one of our local authors, Chris Sansom. Those of you who attended the Writers’ Club meeting, will probably remember the tall, quiet-spoken ex-solicitor who matter-of-factly charted his meteoric writing career. On sending sample chapters of his first book, Dissolution, out to a number of agents, his work generated so revelationmuch interest there was a bidding war for it. And P.D. James agreed to write the foreword…

If you weren’t inspired back then to pick up this author’s work, I strongly recommend you do so, now. His sleuth of choice is Matthew Shardlake, who should have some sort of medal as the unlikeliest P.I. in the history of the genre. Master Shardlake is a hunchback, who has battled against his disability to become a lawyer – which is a greater achievement than you might think, considering that Sansom’s detective series is set in King Henry VIII’s turbulent reign. I have just finished reading the fourth book in the series, Revelation, and in my opinion it’s right up there with Dark Fire, my favourite.

King Henry, recently widowed after Catherine Howard’s execution, is looking around for a new queen – and a certain good-looking widow, Catherine Parr, has caught his eye. Meanwhile, the Bishop of London, Bonner and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, are locked in a power struggle, where the stakes couldn’t be higher – a heretic’s fiery death. When a colleague and close friend of Shardlake’s is horribly murdered, he finds himself, once more, sucked into Tudor power politics, with all its attendant risks…
The twisting plotline is a triumph of narrative tension with a satisfyingly surprising denouement. Shardlake, the chief protagonist and first person narrator, is beautifully drawn and we are reacquainted with other old friends, his sidekick, Jack Barak and his physician friend and ex-monk, Guy Malton.
But, for me, the best character in the story by far, is the Tudor backdrop. Sansom gives us a slice of historic London in exquisite detail – from the unusual weather conditions, to the social and religious difficulties afflicting everyday folk trying to earn a living. This account would be a respectable feat if he was writing a history book of the time – the fact that he manages to use his extensive knowledge in such a lively, natural manner, puts him right up there with the great writers of the genre, in my opinion.
So, as the nights lengthen, treat yourself to a late Christmas present and curl up by the fire with all the books in this series Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation and his latest – Heartstone. You’ll be thanking me if you do…
10/10

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