September 27, 11.37
I bitch and moan frequently about the fact that UK newspapers fill their book reviews sections with reviews of books that people don't read, that never see the light of day on the best seller lists. So students of Prussian economics and obscure romantic poets are served up with a menu of books for their delectation while those of us with more populist tastes in literature have to scramble around for our recommendations.
I hadn't come across Sansom before, but the article piqued my interest sufficiently to send me scurrying across to Amazon for a Perfect Partner double of the first two novels in this Tudor Crime series: Dark Fire and Dissolution.
My knowledge of Tudor history boils down, very roughly, to knowing that the King had six wives and that a high proportion of them left this realm without their heads. Beyond that I was in the dark. So it was a joy to discover a pair of books so rich in political intrigue, religious hostility and fascinating social texture. The first, Dark Fire, starts a little slowly, continues at a fairly pedestrian pace and finished without much of a bang, but because Sansom fills the gaps in the narrative with such detailed historical context - the English political scene, the dissolution of the monasteries, the fact that Anne Boleyn kept talking after her head was chopped off - and unusual characterisation (the protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, is a sexually-repressed, reformist, hunch-backed layer and henchman of Thomas Cromwell) that it all seems to work fine.
But the second is a positive tour de force exploring the dark Machiavellian world of the power struggles at King Henry's court and the equally dark conditions in which so many Londoners lived at the time. Dissolution has an extraordinarily intricate plot tieing in a number of, er, seemingly dissolute, threads and is carried off with real panache. Shardlake comes much more to life on his own turf in London and picks up an entertainingly-violent sidekick (every detective needs one) along the way.
So it was with great excitement that I received Shardlake 3 - Sovereign - in a somewhat disappointingly spartan pile of birthday presents this morning.
If a bit of Tudor rough is what you fancy, give these a go, they are well worth a shot. And thanks to whichever Sunday newspaper cast aside its intellectual shackles for long enough to recommend them.