One of the features of CJ Sansom's hugely enjoyable Shardlake series, is that towards the end of each Tudor adventure, the hunchbacked lawyer-cum-detective swears off involvement in affairs of state forever.
As Shardlake and his peers often observe, however, the great men of politics are not easily denied and so it proves every time some Cromwell, Cranmer or other knocks on the door of his Chancery Lane home demanding one last service.
In Lamentation, the sixth book in the series, it is Cranmer - on behalf of Queen Number Six, Catherine Parr who calls again - who sends for Shardlake, just has he did some years previously in the events described in Sovereign, which covered an earlier period of events when an earlier Queen (#5) was still on the throne, her young head still attached to its body.
With another Queen in similar danger, and one for whom Shardlake has the softest of spots, against his better judgement, the lawyer heads to Whitehall for his instructions. There he finds a court in the grip of yet another religious convulsion as traditionalists and reformers jostle for pre-eminence in the dying light of the rapidly fading star of King Henry VIII. Queen Catherine has lost a book she has written Lamentation of a Sinner, a volume that in the wrong hands could place her in jeopardy of charges of treason and or heresy.
At 650 pages, Lamentation is an epic, and I know some readers find the Shardlake series a little slow and occasionally laboured with too much detail.
For me, however, it is the detail that makes these books special. Sansom lavishes care on his characters who are always convincing and memorable, whether they are the wherry men on the Thames or the highest officials in the lands. And from the ever-shifting and dangerous sands of King Henry's court to the sights, sounds and smells of Tudor England these novels are absolute treasure chests of rich historical detail and intrigue. Sansom has a gift for story-telling and a feeling for history that has ensured that his books have consistently brought this fascinating period to life. And he has done so in the most compelling fashion through tightly woven stories of murder and treachery that touch many of the best known and infamous characters of the period.
Lamentation is no exception. Long it may be, but it never flags as it delivers on its promise of illustrating the febrile nature of politics and religion that Henry has sown through his combination of personal weakness, ruthlessness and changeability.
These books have become highlights of each of the six years Sansom has delivered them since Dissolution a decade ago. And even though the Henrician era is over by the time Lamentation closes - no spoiler there - I hope the series outlasts the King.
Previous Shardlake reviews: