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.