Matthew Shardlake, the narrator and ‘hero’ of Lamentation by C J Sansom [London: Mantle, 2014] acquits himself well and emerges alive at the end; unlike some. The sixth of Sansom’s Tudor detective-adventure-historical novels is as exciting and as bloody as the previous five; and just as satisfying. In a way, I would love to see him go on but poor Matthew deserves a break after six years of life-threatening escapades including two short spells in the Tower.
As ever, Sansom writes very well, keeping up the level of excitement and leaving his readers hanging over assorted cliffs at the end of many chapters. His knowledge of the period is carefully but not too obtrusively worked into narrative, adding to the feeling of authenticity. Perhaps Shardlake walks into the traps that are regularly sprung on him in a way that suggests he does not learn from experience but he is human and swayed by emotion as well as logic. After all, he is secretly in love with Catherine Parr, now the Queen of England.
This novel deals with the final year of the long rule of Henry VIII who broke with Rome and established himself as the head of his own Church of England, took over the huge assets of the religious establishment, spent the lot and took out his anger on his enemies, real and perceived. Life for most was, in the famous phrase, nasty, brutal and short. As the king slowly but surely died, the family factions of the nobility battled for control of the forthcoming regency. Today’s readers know what is to come; the death of the boy king, the harsh rule of Mary and then the long reign of Elizabeth but none of the characters in Sansom’s novels is prescient and their hopes and guesses for the future will mostly be unfulfilled. The whole series of novels is well worth reading and, in an ideal world, from the beginning. And Sansom has written other novels well worth exploring.