Murder, Mayhem and History

Source: unfortunately.oh

For murder mystery story and history buffs, C. J. Sanson is the perfect read.  His seven Matthew Shardlake series novels immerse his readers in the world of England beginning 1537 as Henry VIII proclaims himself the Supreme Head of the Church to 1549 when Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset is regent for the eleven year old king, Edward VI.

(They are in order: Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation, Heartstone, Lamentation, and Tombland.)

It is during this period that the well known Tudor view of English sixteen century history was forged. These well researched novels chronicle within real historical events the cases of fictional character lawyer Serjeant Matthew Shardlake, his assistant lawyer Master Nicholas Overton, and friend Jack Barak, through sometimes harried and harrowing tumultuous times under various patrons including Queen Catherine, and, in the last book, the sixteen year old volatile Lady Elizabeth.

Shardlake, a hunchback,  is a brilliant honest lawyer who has an interest in true justice and in helping the poor but who seems to be destined to be required to solve murders.

That is particularly the situation in Tombland, Sanson’s seventh book of the series.  England is a world of defended class distinctions, intrigue, spies, a place where fortune favours the rich and powerful, and where the poor have little or no recourse from exploitation.

In this book Shardlake, as he doggedly strives to ferret out the murderer of the wife of Lady Elizabeth’s distant relative John Boleyn, becomes caught up in a major rebellion headed by Robert and William Kett, two ‘gentlemen’ who take up the cause of the poor, a rebellion centred in the second largest city of England of the time, Norwich.

While each well written novel presents a fascinating murder mystery and fine development of characters, each also is set in a richly drawn, well researched historical context which tends to ‘balance’ the view of the English 16th century so influenced by Tudor propaganda.

Each one of these novels is a fascinating read! Excellent summer reading fodder!

Frank Obrigewitsch, SJ, is pastor of St. Ignatius parish in Winnipeg.

  • John Montague
    Posted at 07:42h, 15 May Reply

    I read them all and found their presentation of life in Tudor England revealing, especially what happened as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries. They are an excellent read.

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