Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Heartstone" and other C. J. Sansom Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mysteries!

I am a big C. J. Sansom fan, and just finished reading his fifth Matthew Shardlake mystery, "Heartstone." Sansom's character, Matthew, is actually a real estate, or 'land,' attorney in the time of Henry VIII. Who knew the profession existed at that time! But, actually, in the first book in the series, "Dissolution," Sansom explains that when Henry VIII dissolved the Catholic Church in England and then divested himself of many of the Church's former properties, there was a LOT of associated work for land attorneys.

Lest the books sound boring, I should hasten to mention that Matthew is constantly dragged into court intrigue and murder investigations. In "Heartstone," the Queen (Catherine Parr) asks him to take a case involving the son of one of her servants.

Matthew heads to the south of England to investigate, and quickly realizes that he has a complicated mystery on his hands. To compound matters, a French invasion fleet is poised to land very near where his investigation has lead him.

One of the things that I love about these books, and other good historical fiction, is that the backdrop is factual and well-researched and the stories of the individuals are fictional, but fit within the framework created by that backdrop.

So, in the case of "Heartstone," the details of Henry VIII's 1544 war with France are factually correct, including the sinking of the ship, "Mary Rose." I cannot write much here about how the "Mary Rose" figures into the aforementioned mystery without creating "spoilers." So, I will merely say that all of the Matthew Shardlake books are stay-up-all-night-reading-even-though-you-have-work-tomorrow books.

My mother once commented when we were discussing another work of historic fiction (by Geraldine Brooks, an author I will discuss in a later blog) that the best sign that a book of this genre is good is if it compels you to further research on the subject. By that yardstick, these are good books, as after reading the first couple, I became intrigued with Tudor England and Henry's wives and started cruising the internet looking for timelines, pictures, and more information.

Read the Matthew Shardlake books! Each stands alone, but they are best read in order, as follows:

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