Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake) by C J Sansom

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Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake) by C J Sansom

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It's the fifth book in the series but reads perfectly as a standalone. Highly recommended for fans old and new.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 450 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Mantle
ISBN: 978-1405092739

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Henry VIII was not one to ponder on his failings but his recent invasion of France had gone completely wrong and the French fleet was preparing to cross the Channel and invade England. The only way that Henry could raise the money to gather a large militia army was to debase the currency and the country was put in the grip of raging inflation and economic crisis. Meanwhile the English fleet gathered at Portsmouth.

Matthew Shardlake, the hunchback lawyer, was called from London to Hampton Court Palace to see Queen Catherine. That's Catherine Parr, by the way. She wanted Shardlake to investigate a case in the Court of Wards. The son of one of her servants had claimed that 'monstrous wrongs' had been done to Hugh Curteys, the ward of Sir Nicholas Hobbey, but then committed suicide before the case could be investigated. The Queen wanted Shardlake to go to Hampshire to investigate and, reluctant to refuse the Queen anything, Shardlake agreed. He had an ulterior motive too. A woman in the Bedlam, Ellen Fettiplace, had become fixated on him and whilst Matthew didn't reciprocate her feelings he wanted to see her living a happier life. The trip to Hampshire would give him the opportunity to make a detour and find out about her history.

I was a Shardlake virgin. I know; it seems impossible when I think about it and I can only plead that there were too many other books which had to be read. I only read this one because I looked at the opening pages wondering which reviewer would like it best and realised at about page ninety that it was definitely me. Actually there were other reasons for not reading the series. So often historical crime novels are padded out with all the research the author can muster to compensate for a weaker plot. To add another reason to the pile of 'why I wouldn't normally have read this book' – I don't like books about war. I always say that I don't take my pleasures that sadly.

A lot of this book is about war – the preparations for it, the cruelty and the action – and it's superb. Every word, you see, is relevant to the plot. I had a real feeling of being out on the road to Portsmouth with the troops, on the ships (including the Mary Rose) with sailors and on the south coast with the people who knew that if the French invaded they would receive no mercy. There's no exposition – we see it all in context.

The story is superb and the twist in the story is excellent. All the clues as to what has happened are there, but you will only spot them when you reread the book. The characters all come off the page fully formed and you're left with the feeling that you would know them if you met them. I've struggled to think of anything which I didn't really enjoy about the book – and failed. You might be thinking that it will not have been easy to come in at book five of a series but this presented no problem other than the fact that I now want to make the time to read the first four books in the series.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

I know that it's not a mystery but if I had to read something similar after this and know that I'd not be disappointed it would have to be Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Yes – the bar is that high.

C J Sansom's Matthew Shardlake Novels in Chronological Order

Booklists.jpg Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake) by C J Sansom is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.

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Buy Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake) by C J Sansom at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake) by C J Sansom at Amazon.com.


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Peter said:

This is a book you simply cannot put down, highly recommended.