This is going to be sort of a catch-all review, because after a co-worker loaned me C.J. Sansom’s Tudor-era mystery Dissolution, I immediately went out and borrowed the next book in the series, Dark Fire, from the library, and am now into the third book, Sovereign. If you enjoy historical mysteries this is a series not to be missed. The “detective,” Matthew Shardlake, is a lawyer who, as the story opens, works for Thomas Cromwell. He is committed, like Cromwell, to the cause of Protestant Reform in England. He’s also hunchbacked, which gives him a little bit of the status of an outsider, and he is indeed a keen observer of, and reflector on, the people and events around him, which makes him an excellent detective. At the beginning of Dissolution, Cromwell sends Shardlake to investigate a murder in one of the monasteries that’s slated for dissolution under Henry VIII’s reforms. What happens there not only provides an engaging puzzle for Shardlake and the reader, but also changes Shardlake as a man and as a reformer, causing him to question many of the certainties to which he’s clung so tightly.
This is the best kind of historical mystery, rich with period detail and focused on a character who is clearly a man of his time, yet relatable for modern readers. In the second book, Dark Fire, Shardlake has distanced himself from Cromwell but gets pulled into his web of influence again as he has to track down a group of people who may just have discovered the ancient weapon known as Greek Fire — and Shardlake has to face the question of whether anyone can be trusted with a weapon of mass destruction. Also, in the second book, he’s acquired a reluctant sidekick, Jack Barak, a wonderfully drawn and engaging character who’s a great foil to Shardlake in every way. There are three more books in this series and I’m sure when I’ve done the last one I’ll be eagerly waiting for Sansom to come up with more, so I hope he’s working on that!