By C.J. Sansom
When Catherine Parr’s book, Fifty Shades of Religion [Really? –ed.], goes missing, she turns to her favourite PI, Matthew Shardlake to find what has happened to it. It seems that the wrong people have probably got it and will publish it any day… Any day now… Or perhaps not.
Shardlake’s day doesn’t get any better when his searches get him tangled up with the oily Sir Richard Rich, who has been involved in a little extrajudicial interrogation of Anne Askew, the religious fanatic who got burnt at the start of the book. She managed to write an account of her time in the Tower which is at risk of being smuggled abroad, and indeed is after a desperate battle at the docks. Yet in spite of that volume going abroad, there’s no sign of the Queen’s modest tome which, she fears, is going to annoy the King if he gets his pudgy little hands on it.
In his usual OCD style, Shardlake just won’t let go, and his two sidekicks won’t let him go alone in spite of the near-fatal injuries done to Jack Barak.
As Shardlake eventually discovers, there are some top people involved, and he manages to live to fight another day, but sent packing with a right royal flea in his ear.
Six months later, Henry has died, and the threat from Sir Richard Rich increases with his promotion to Lord Chancellor, but the Dowager Queen has a solution, and they all live happily ever after – at least until the next novel.
As with other books in the series, some judicious cutting might’ve helped, and once again, there was a certain amount of repetition, not just words, but also passages where the same ideas were repeated.
Once again, Shardlake has problems with his steward, who is open to blackmail because of his son; he keeps falling out with Guy of Malton; he nearly gets Barak killed (and seriously annoys Tamasin because of the deceit surrounding Barak’s other injuries); and while the reader hopes that he’ll succeed in spite of the opposition against him, he’s not the most endearing character.
Although Sansom may have other Shardlake novels in the pipeline, I’m inclined to think that the death of Henry VIII should see the end of the series. After all, what’s he going to do with Edward VI? “You, peasant,” demanded the gangly adolescent king, “find my iPhone for me, the one which has all my naked selfies, which I sent to Jane Grey.”