Sansom’s Tudor thrillers are too tempting to stay away from and Dark Fire [London: Macmillan, 2003] lives up to expectations, indeed goes beyond them. Sansom skilfully interweaves the political and private lives of the 1540s with the imagined rediscovery of dark fire, otherwise known as Greek fire, and the sort of heart-stopping and bloody adventures that the hero, Matthew Shardlake, seems to stumble into in every chapter. Readers in this century are inevitably reminded of weapons of mass destruction and the question of whether or not they exist.
Sansom interweaves the several strands of his story with consummate skill and such detailed observation that the reader can clearly picture, smell and almost touch the scene. And to get any closer could be life threatening; certainly my heart stops as Shardlake walks into yet another trap.
Perhaps that is the one minor criticism of this novel. Such a clever man as Shardlake might be expected to learn more from experience and not go into ‘empty’ buildings alone and without back up: but who are we, the thunderstruck readers, to say we would know and do any better. For a mercy, he survives to tell another four tales in the series, three more of which I have still to read. I must try and space them out over the summer so as to keep me reading other books. Sansom writes extraordinarily well-crafted detective thrillers and fully deserves the success they have enjoyed.