Author: C J Sansom
- Series: The Shardlake Series
- ISBN: 9780230711259
- Published: July 2015
- Pages: 626
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 07/02/2020
- Language: English
Offer me a time machine and I would travel no further back than the 1980s. This would allow me to place loads of bets on sporting events I know the results to and invest in Apple Computers. You would not see me travelling hundreds of years into the future or the past, are you mad? The 1980s were safe enough for me in Blighty, but what does the future hold and we know the past was nasty. Travel back to the time of Henry VIII and faster than you can say, “I am not French”, they will have you holding a long bow and being sent into battle. No thank you. I would like to hope that if I was back in 1545, the likes of Matthew Shardlake would be there to defend my apparent cowardness and insanity.
Shardlake is still residing in London and is a lawyer for the Royal Court. When he is asked by the Queen herself to investigate the apparent suicide of a young man, he has no other recourse but to do so. An open and shut case soon becomes much more when it is linked to the exploitation of a young ward of the Court. Shardlake finds himself travelling to the South Coast at the same time as King Henry VIII is amassing an Armada. Can he be back in the relative safety of London before a war starts?
Hindsight is a kind thing. We know now that England was never invaded by the French in the 16th Century, but what C J Sansom is so adept at is creating a story that makes you feel as if you were there. Heartstone never plays down the fear that the French may walk on English soil any day and it leads to fear for the normal man and political intrigue for the powerful elite. Shardlake once again finds himself between these two parties – a puppet for the Queen, but also an advocate for an innocent man.
Sansom is the thinking person’s historic crime fiction, beautifully blending plenty of historical detail with a crime case that you will want to follow. There have been missteps such as Revelation, but in Heartstone, the balance is the best yet. The timing of the book is perfect. An aging Henry is losing money and a war. This leads to tensions at Court and leads to a tragedy off the South Coast that anyone familiar with the area will know. Sansom leads the reader to this moment and puts Shardlake smack in the middle of it all.
The tension from this alone would make for interesting reading, but there are also two crime narratives that are running parallel. One of potential murder and exploitation, the other about a buried past. The book deftly moves between the three strands of story whilst still painting an evocative picture of the time.
At a wrist aching 626 pages you can argue that the detailing is a little longwinded. If you want rich history, you will read non-fiction. The book would surely be a much pacier crime thriller had it been 200 pages less, but that would take away one of the unique elements of a Sansom novel; the virtual walk around Tudor England. The pace of this outing is much better than in some previous outings, but that may just have been because I was aware what was going to happen towards the end. Those a little less knowledgeable of the time period could find themselves exasperated as the author wanders off on yet another historic cul de sac.
There is no denying that Heartstone is a well written piece of historic crime fiction. To some it will be overwritten, but for fans of the Shardlake series, they will know what to expect and, in this instance, get perhaps the best outing yet. If you are looking for a book that evokes Tudor England and provides a tasty crime narrative, this is for you.
Written on 7th February 2020 by Sam Tyler .