The Matthew Shardlake series of historical crime fiction from C J Sansom continues superbly with number five, Heartstone. [London: Pan Books, 2011] As ever the author combines several apparently separate story lines within a gripping, sometimes terrifying ‘detective’ story against a convincingly authentic Tudor background.
Now it is the summer of 1545 when Henry VIII’s ill-conceived war against France explodes with a naval battle in the Solent involving his flagships the Great Henry and the Mary Rose. To modern readers the mention of the latter will set alarm bells ringing: they will not be disappointed.
Shardlake is asked by Queen Catherine to look into a case where a former royal servant’s son has died by his own hand after he protested against the wardship of an orphan who may be being exploited by his court-appointed warden. But, in these stories, it is never simple or straightforward. Especially when one of those involved is the dastardly Sir Richard Rich, a thoroughly corrupt Privy Councillor who has battled with Shardlake several times already. Double cross, deceit, corruption and mendacity occur on almost every page. The short chapters heighten the tension and keep the reader turning the pages.
As ever, Shardlake nearly dies more than once; his assistant Jack Barak plays a crucial role in the story and we encounter Dr Guy Malton the percipient medic once again. Some say this is the best of the series but I have still to read the final one (so far) Lamentation.