One of the most vivid memories I have of my early schooldays is of every boy in my school being sat down in front of a television to watch the raising of the Mary Rose, King Henry VIII's favourite warship.
I do not recall exactly what the expectations my 10-year-old, not-entirely-stupid self had for what must have been a momentous and important event - the only other event we watched at school was the landing or take-off of the space shuttle Columbia - but it's fair to say I was not over-impressed.
At the very least I expected to see a mast or two, maybe some flags and cannons but to see a miserable-looking hunk of rotting wood revealed was a severe disappointment.
And that let-down pretty much killed off my interest in Henry's warships because until CJ Sansom described the terrible sinking of the ship in typically colourful and vivid detail, all I knew of the event was its location: Portsmouth harbour.
Throughout the brilliant and hugely enjoyable series of mysteries, featuring lawyer Matthew Shardlake, Sansom has delivered a vibrant combination of Tudor history and politics, meticulous social detail and fabulous mystery stories that bring to life some of the most important characters of great Harry's court.
Heartsone is no exception. We've already had the wives, the Great Progress and the Dissolution and now we have the war. It is 1545 and England is hurriedly preparing for an invasion from France, where the King has been driven to action by Henry's pointless, vain and futile attempts at waging war on his richer and more powerful southern neighbour.
The fleet is massing at Portsmouth, as across the land soldiers are pressed into the King's service and everywhere taxes are raised to fund yet another military campaign.
As is usual in Sansom's novels, Matthew Shardlake's role in all this starts out being peripheral before he is gradually dragged further into affairs of state. In Heartstone, his legal services are requested by the Queen (#6 - Catherine Parr - "survived") to investigate the death of the son of a former lady-in-waiting.
The apparent suicide of this man, Michael Calfhill, hides a tragic if not unusual 16th century story. Calfhill had been working as a tutor to the children of the Curteys family, when the parents were killed by a regular bout of the plague. The orphaned children, Emma and Hugh, became the wards of the Hobbey family who owned adjoining lands in Hampshire. Emma subsequently dies of the pox. When the Hobbeys move to Hampshire, Calfhill is dismissed, but he follows the progress of his surviving tutee, Hugh, and later reports to his mother that terrible harm is being done to the young man in Hampshire. But before the matter is taken further, Calfhill dies.
At the Queen's request, Shardlake, although not a lawyer of the Court of Wards, which governs the affairs of oprhaned children (largely to the benefit of the King who regards it as a prime source of income) takes up the case on behalf of Hugh Curteys.
Once on the case, Shardlake embarks on an investigation that puts him on a collision course with the Royal court, something he has been desperate to avoid.
Reading the Shardlake books is akin to taking the best history course you could imagine and over the course of the five books, Sansom "teaches" his readers about myriad aspects of life, politics and economics in the Tudor period. In Heartstone he covers the condition of the rural poor, the early industrialization of England, the life of the fighting man and tax policies of the period.
With all of these wrapped up in the superlative mystery novel, with a wickerly entertaining side dish of politics not to mention a naval battle, it makes Sansom as readable and entertaining as ever.
This one is further enlivened by a cameo appearance from the young Princess Elizabeth, something I hope is a pointer to future themes.
If you haven't tried this series yet, then you're missing one of the very best on the market. Five stars.
MATERIAL WITNESS REVIEWS OF PREVIOUS CJ SANSOM NOVELS
Sovereign (Shardlake 3)
Revelation (Shardlake 4)