HEARTSTONE by C.J. Sansom
“‘We could have you dead in a minute,’ the voice continued. ‘Remember that and listen hard. You drop this case, you forget about it. There’s people who don’t want this matter taken further. Now tell me you understand.’ The pressure at my neck eased, though other hands still gripped my arms hard.
I coughed, managed to gasp a yes.
The hands released me, and I dropped to the muddy ground in a heap….”
Review by Eleanor Bukowsky В (FEB 26, 2011)
In his latest Tudor mystery, Heartstone, C. J. Sansom embroils his hero, lawyer and do-gooder Matthew Shardlake, in several intrigues that take him away from London for a large part of the novel. It is 1545, and the profligate King Henry VIII is squeezing his subjects dry in order to wage an expensive military campaign against France. The king has ordered English currency devalued, levied heavy taxes, conscripted every able-bodied Englishman, and even hired foreign mercenaries to wage war against the enemy.
Matthew, who is forty-three and hunchbacked, has never married but is a respected member of Lincoln’s Inn, in the Court of Requests. However, he frequently puts aside his professional interests to get personally involved in other people’s business. For instance, he visits Ellen Fettiplace, a woman who has been in Bedlam for nineteen years and has grown attached to Shardlake. Although he has no romantic feelings for Ellen, he is determined to find out who placed her in the institution and why. In another matter, Queen Catherine Parr asks Matthew to look into the case of Hugh Curtey, a ward of Sir Nicholas Hobbey. There is some suspicion that Hugh has been wronged and Catherine wants Matthew to investigate the allegation.
Along with his intrepid assistant, Jack Barak, Matthew takes to the road, and a long road it is. Not only will he end up in Portsmouth, where Henry’s huge militia is preparing to defend the English coast from invasion, but he will also tangle with ruthless and greedy men who are willing to kill in order to keep their secrets hidden. Barak would rather stay in London with his pregnant wife, Tamasin; however, in order to avoid military service, he accompanies Shardlake. Matthew is highly intelligent, compassionate, prone to melancholy, stubborn, and a bit obsessive. Even when threatened with bodily harm, he refuses to abandon his inquiries.
Heartstone is fluid, informative, entertaining, and a marvel of research. The author’s period detail and descriptive writing are impressive. He provides maps and background information that add realism to this complex tale. We inhabit sixteenth century England and experience what life was like for royalty, gentlemen, farmers, merchants, and soldiers (they sometimes ate rotten food, lived in flea-infested quarters, and took orders from arrogant and abusive commanders). Their reward? To get “ripped apart and slaughtered in battle.” We get glimpses of the powerful weaponry on a gigantic warship. In addition, the author points out the widespread corruption and favoritism at every level of government, and how bitter the enmity was between the affluent and those who lived from hand to mouth.
Each character is scrupulously depicted. Ellen at times appears to be mad, but she has moments of great calm and lucidity. What terrible memories have left her terrified of leaving the institution? Nicholas Hobbey and his wife, Abigail, are obviously keeping something from Matthew, but can he learn what it is in time to help Hugh? Among the villains is a familiar face, Sir Richard Rich, who is back to give Matthew even more grief. Some may balk at the story’s length (over six hundred pages), but those who enjoy high-quality British historical fiction will continue to welcome each new installment in this splendid series.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 24 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Viking Adult (January 20, 2011)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia page on C.J. Sansom|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt – none available|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
Mathew Shardlake, hunchback lawyer, 16th Century:
- Dissolution (2003)
- Dark Fire (2004; January 2005 in US)
- Sovereign (February 2007)
- Revelation (February 2009)
- Heartstone (January 2011 in US)
- Winter in Madrid (January 2008)