Thursday, July 8, 2010

Historical Fiction at Its Finest

As I mentioned in my last post, I haven't been in much of a reading mood in the past few months.  Even so, I've managed to pick a few real winners despite my case of the reading blahs, and I'd like to share a few of them with you. 

For historical fiction fans, if you haven't yet discovered C. J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake mysteries, you are in for a real treat.  In the first of the series, Dissolution, Henry VIII and Cromwell are orchestrating the dissolution of the monasteries.  Hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, one of Cromwell's more reluctant minions, is ordered to go to one of the larger monasteries as a commissioner to try and figure out who beheaded the previous commissioner. Although I figured out who the murderer was way before the denoument, I wasn't sure of the motive until it was revealed at the very end. But the mystery was, for me, a small part of the charm of this novel.  Rather, the incredible historical details are what fascinated, as did the characters of Shardlake and Cromwell and the entire horror of the dismantling of the monasteries in England.

Dissolution is followed by Dark Fire, wherein Shardlake must solve two mysteries ~ one of which involves, at the behest of Cromwell, uncovering the whereabouts of a fearsome Weapon of Mass Destruction; Sovereign (my personal favorite), which finds Shardlake, under the authority of Archbishop Cranmer, reluctantly joining the Great Progress of Henry VIII as he travels to York to quell a rebellion that is brewing there and, along the way, uncovering a dangerous secret that could rock the foundations of the state; and Revelation, set during the waning years of Henry's reign when the aging and ailing king is wooing Catherine Parr, and which has Shardlake investigating the strange incarceration in Bedlam of a young religious fanatic while, at the same time, chasing after a serial killer, one of whose victims may be linked to Mistress Parr.

These intricately plotted mysteries portray England during Tudor times in an intimate and vibrant fashion. The mysteries are good, but, as with Dissolution, the historical details ~ so vivid you can almost smell, hear, see what it must have been like ~ and characterizations are what have enchanted me.  I am, as you can imagine, very much looking forward to Heartstone, the fifth installment in the series. 


No comments: