REVELATION by C. J. Sansom

Book Quote:

“We are in a mad and furious world, Matthew. Mundus furiosis  Each side railing against the other, preaching full of rage and hatred.  The radicals foretelling the end of the world.  To the conversion of some and the confusion of many.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky (APR 16, 2009)

C. J. Sansom’s Revelation takes place in 1543, a tumultuous year in English history. Religious fanaticism is on the rise among Protestants and Catholics alike; Henry VIII, who is ailing, has been urging Lady Catherine Parr to become his sixth wife, but she is reluctant to accept his proposal; the chasm between rich and poor is huge, with filthy, starving, and often mentally ill beggars crowding the thoroughfares. The homeless are everywhere, and “most people simply looked away, made the sufferers invisible.” The sick often die in the streets, since there is no hospital care for the destitute.

In this, the fourth installment in Sansom’s splendid series, the narrator, forty-year old lawyer Matthew Shardlake, seems to have finally found peace of mind. Although he has a humpback that still attracts stares and the occasional taunt, Matthew has secured a good position as one of two barristers appointed to plead before the Court of Requests. He enjoys his work and makes enough money to pay a housekeeper, eat well, and dress in fine robes. Although he has no wife, he does have many loyal friends whom he values. Unfortunately, trouble is brewing, and Matthew’s equanimity is about to be shattered.

One of Shardlake’s closest friends is found brutally slaughtered in a public place. Since the victim had no enemies, the killing appears to be a random act of violence. Soon, however, the authorities discover that there have been other similar crimes. Matthew joins forces with Archbishop Cranmer and his inner circle to identify and apprehend a serial killer who uses the book of Revelation as a blueprint for torturing and murdering his victims. Adding to Matthew’s worries, he has a new and troubling client, Adam Kite, a seventeen-year-old who prays obsessively, rails loudly “with strange moans and shrieks” in public, and has been placed in Bedlam, the infamous asylum, on the Privy Council’s orders. Shardlake is also concerned about his loyal assistant, Jack Barak. Jack married the lovely Tamasin and all seemed well until they lost their baby at birth. Since then, the couple has been quarreling incessantly, and Barak spends more time at the pubs than he does with his lonely and depressed wife.

Sansom has immersed himself in the geography, sociology, culture, politics, and theology of London in the sixteenth century and his writing is the richer for it. Revelation is more than five hundred pages long, and the story unfolds gradually; but the patient reader will be compensated for his perseverance. Matthew Shardlake is a marvelous and original creation. Although he is not handsome or physically powerful, he has keen intelligence, insight, compassion, loyalty, and great inner strength. He repeatedly puts himself at risk to track a madman who is as clever as he is sadistic. Another appealing character is Matthew’s close friend, Dr. Guy Malton, an excellent physician who uses his knowledge of medicines, herbs, and human anatomy to alleviate his patients’ suffering. Matthew would be lost without Guy’s able assistance. The secondary characters are, as usual, beautifully portrayed, including Ellen, an agoraphobic who, while confined to Bedlam, takes care of her fellow inmates; Dorothy Elliard, a sweet-natured and attractive woman whom Matthew has loved for years; Archbishop Cranmer, a commanding figure who must weigh his actions carefully, lest he find himself incurring the King’s displeasure; and Piers, Guy’s apprentice and protégé, a bright and calculating boy whom Matthew distrusts.

Revelation is a well-researched and complex novel that brings an unsettled era in London to brilliant life; it is a suspenseful and exciting murder mystery with an explosive ending; and it is an unflinching look at the evils of racial, religious, and class prejudice. The plot may be too busy for those who like their books lean, but the author balances his many subplots and large cast with Dickensian flair. With its lively dialogue, evocative setting, detailed descriptive passages, and engrossing themes,Revelation is a rich and rewarding work of historical fiction that shows why C. J. Sansom has garnered such a devoted following.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 49  reviewers
PUBLISHER: Viking Adult (February 2009)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wkipedia page on C.J. Sansom
EXTRAS: none
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Mathew Shardlake, hunchback lawyer, 16th Century:


April 16, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Sleuths Series

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