Wednesday, October 07, 2020

CJ Sansom - Lamentation

In this sixth volume of the adventures of Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake, readers are thrown deep into the courtly machinations as Henry VIII rapidly approaches the end of his life. As various factions (influenced by different religious interests) battle for position Shardlake is pulled back into the regal orbit - a place he feels distinctly uncomfortable. Not least as he is battling with his own beliefs. Queen Catherine Parr, whom Shardlake has helped in earlier volumes, and who he has formed a certain attachment to, recruits the lawyer to find a missing manuscript. The Queen's book, Lamentation of a Sinner, has the potential to destabilise relations with the king and provoke a backlash against the protestant reforming cause. 

Sansom has rooted this volume in his deep knowledge of the rule of Henry. He also makes the world seem real. Whether or not the meeting between a relatively lowly lawyer and the Queen of England would have proceeded as Sansom describes is unknowable. But Sansom has the skill to make it seem believable and thus draw the reader in. I particularly like the sense of wonder that Shardlake feels as he enters rooms in Whitehall that are reserved for the royal family. Also interesting is how familiarity begins to breed indifference as these surroundings become normal. 

At first the book seems like a locked room mystery. Lamentation was taken from a locked cabinet in the Queen's private bedchamber. Exploring how this happened and who took it draws Shardlake into a murky encounters with dangerous radical reformers and forces at court that will stop a little to get their way. 

Unfortunately, while it's an enjoyable read, the book relies too much on its context and not enough on the plot. The ending felt like a major let down, and a bit of a get out clause. Sansom seems more concerned with fitting the story into wider court machinations than satisfying the reader. Nonetheless the book is fun, and there's plenty of background - Shardlake's struggle's with his servants, his battles with court and, of course, the scenery of Tudor London all around them. If you've made it to volume six, you'll probably enjoy it. If you are new to Shardlake it's not the best starting place.

Related Reviews

Sansom - Heartstone
Sansom - Dissolution
Sansom - Dark Fire
Sansom - Sovereign
Sansom - Revelation

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