Who is Matthew Shardlake you might ask…well only my favorite hunchback since the Sicilian in The Princess Bride.
A couple of years ago while looking for a new mystery novel in Barnes and Noble the word on the spine of a book caught my eye…Dissolution.
“Hmm…what an interesting word,” I thought to myself. Not a word used in everyday conversation. I picked it up, read the blurb on the back, and took it home. Within the next two months I bought the next two books in the series. After that I waited with bated breath for each consecutive book to be released.
It takes a special kind of writer to use a hunchback as a main character successfully, especially when you are setting him in England in the 1500’s. Sansom is successful. Shardlake begins as a fellow reformer of Thomas Cromwell. If you are familiar with British history (which I was not), you know that in 1537 there was a lot of religious upheaval going on. During this time Cromwell spearheaded the dissolution of English monasteries. The first book begins with a death at a monastery that is in the midst of being dissolved.
I was unaware of some of the details of this period in the history of the British isle. Not really surprising since my education in England’s history is limited to movies (Robin Hood Prince of Thieves anyone..), some darn good historical adolescent literature, and a few Shakespeare plays. This is why historical fiction is so important. It can educate those of us who are…uneducated, in an interesting and engaging way.
The first five books have Shardlake investigating murders, running errands for various political figures (including the queen), being humiliated by the king (as if we needed more reasons to not really like Henry the VIII), finding love, losing love, escaping death by various means, and questioning his religion. It has everything you want from a solidly engaging mystery series. Sansom also educates you on the happenings and historical figures of the day. In addition, you get a glimpse of a growing and evolving judicial system, and how things worked in court (both judicial and kingly). Sansom always includes historical notes at the back so you get an idea of what is truly historical, and what he has made up.
I could write a dozen posts about Shardlake…and hey, I might. For now, I just want to give this series a hearty recommendation. Especially since the sixth book in the series, Lamentation, is expected to be released sometime this year.