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.”


Sovereign and Revelation


By C.J. Sansom

Although Matthew Shardlake may have escaped Cromwell’s clutches (what with him being dead and all), he gets pulled in by Archbishop Cranmer to head to York to provide assistance with legal matters to Henry VIII’s progress and to ensure that Sir Edward Broderick is in good health for a spot of brutal human rights abuse in the Tower. What could possibly go wrong?

Before Shardlake has taken two steps inside the gates of York, there’s a murder which leads to the discovery of some secret papers that could topple the monarch. He also sees something else that he ought not to have seen, but if Henry VIII was playing with dolls in a locked room with no windows, Shardlake would see him doing so. There’s the usual cast of bullying, heartless bastards all making Shardlake’s life just that bit worse as well.

Shardlake makes friend with Giles Wrenne, a elderly local lawyer suffering from a terminal illness, while Jack Barak, Shardlake’s assistant (inherited from Cromwell) meets a pretty girl called Tamasin Reedbourne

The story drags on until it reaches a climax as the gang travel back to London, and the reader thinks, “I don’t mind not knowing about the rest because it’s now fairly obvious who the other villain is.” But there’s quite a bit of book left before it’s all resolved and Shardlake is extracting a promise from Cranmer not to bother him with matters of state again. The grateful archbishop promotes him.

Some uncompromising editing would’ve improved the pace of the book and with some care, the second villain, whose identity was immediately obvious after the Unexpected Guest Villain had been revealed, might’ve remained a mystery a bit longer.


An inventive, religious-themed serial killer has been murdering people is various gruesome ways based on the Book of Revelation. One of the victims would happen to be a mate of Shardlake’s, and before he can say a Hail Mary, he’s right up to his neck again when he finds himself in Cranmer’s presence once more because these killings have implications.

Who’s the killer? Who knows, although the evidence points in one definite direction? With dogged determination, Shardlake works out the puzzle.

He also has to deal with another religious extremist, who has ended up in (the) Bedlam because he’s been praying himself silly, although there seems to be no rhyme or reason for it until Shardlake works out the answer in the course of his investigation.

Meanwhile, Jack and Tamasin Barak have been having marital problems following the death of their first child.

Although Shardlake has successfully solved another case, he can’t quite escape the clutches of some very important (grateful) people.