I’m a huge fan of the Shardlake books by C.J. Sansom, set in the later part of King Henry VIII’s reign. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer who becomes embroiled in various political intrigues and this is a period that wasn’t short on intrigue.
The first book, Dissolution, is set against the dissolution of the monasteries and the activities of Thomas Cromwell. I’m reading the sixth book in the series, Lamentation, which is set in the last months of King Henry VIII’s reign.
The early Shardlake books overlap with the period covered by Hilary Mantel’s acclaimed and award-winning novels about Thomas Cromwell, both of which I’ve read. Personally, my preference is for C.J.Sansom’s works.
The Shardlake books use historical characters as the backdrop to a new story, rather than re-telling historical events. The detail is extraordinary.
So, why are Hilary Mantel’s books winners of the Man Booker prize and C.J. Sansom’s haven’t even been long-listed? On one level, the answer is that I have absolutely no idea. On another level, is it because the works are part of a series of murder mysteries, which aren’t generally regarded as Man Booker material? I suspect that’s the case, lamentable though that is.
If you haven’t tried the Shardlake series yet, give the books a whirl. You’ll time-travel to an age of religious dispute, political machinations, Scotland as a separate kingdom, social inequality, fashion statements, craftsmanship, pubs called taverns, untidy students, danger and redemption, power and its abuse and familiar names and places in an unfamiliar mix, all exquisitely laid out for you. And they’re a darn good read!