Sergeant Shardlake was a lawyer. A hunchbacked lawyer. A hunchbacked lawyer with links to Catherine Parr during the closing months of Henry 8th’s reign. Not that long after the Tudors had overthrown that other not to be mentioned hunchbacked enemy of the state. He comes complete with his own entourage of evil-wishers, carefully cultivated over the years. Keeping his head well down. Surprising how hard he finds that to do. His integrity won’t let him stay out of things.
His latest case was frustrating, with all the elements a legal practice could desire. A sibling clash over their inheritance, an oddly worded will with intractable conditions, an irrational refusal of either party to give way, money for legal fees seemingly no object. It would run and run. For many lawyers a dream commission; for a man like Shardlake an unwinnable nightmare of a case.
But life’s never that simple. High up there on the slippery pole there’s a lot more to do than just attend to the bread and butter. Being a senior lawyer brought Shardlake other unsavoury duties, like representing the Inns at the public burning of heretics, and survival, the avoidance of any hint of heresy or appearance of not condemning it. All heresy, whatever the heresy-of-the-day might be. Bearing in mind that tomorrow’s heresy might be to have condemned today’s heresy. Or not to have. And when the Queen herself needs his help, despite his better judgement and the sight of a perilous downside, Shardlake is not about to deny her.
The Queen has committed the sin that catches everyone out. Never, ever, commit dangerous thoughts to paper (or Twitter, or Facebook, or text messages, or book reviews or anywhere else). Don’t do it. She’d done it in a private little paper called Lamentation. And it’d been stolen. Quietly, in secret, in full view of all the courtiers, hangers on, poisonous politicians, perfidious foreign spies and avaricious lawyers, Shardlake’s task was to find out who stole it, find out who had it, get it back. If he failed it might well be a case of Divorced-Beheaded-Died, Divorced-Beheaded-Beheaded.
Sansom has a simple, elegant writing style which draws you effortlessly into the period, making the extraordinary seem natural and everyday. Tudor London is recognisably London, recognisably Tudor, much the same as today and thoroughly unrecognisably, inexplicable. But it’s the people who make the story. The self-seekers, sycophants, honest-as-the-day-is-longers, tricksters, in-it-for-what-they-can-geters, pious-murderers, church-mouse-timiderours, deadly-politickers, uncertain-hesitaters, gung-ho-go-for-iters, righteous-burn-the-heritickers, all are here rubbing along happily beside each other. Yet there’s nothing contrived, nothing out of place, nothing to disturb the flow of the plot or distract from the action.
Btw, its a mystery story. Solve it if you can.
9780330511049|Pan pbk Sep 24, 2015
I’M A WRITER . . . and this is how my award winning first chapter became a novel