Revelation (Matthew Shardlake 4) by C J Sansom

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Revelation (Matthew Shardlake 4) by C J Sansom

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: The fourth instalment of the immensely popular Shardlake series, and yet again, CJ Sansom has written a stunningly haunting novel. Set in Tudor times, with Henry VIII pursuing Catherine Parr, in the hope of making her his sixth wife. Political intrigue also abounds, leading Matthew once again to become involved in complex events, the likes of which he had hoped to consign firmly to his past.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 452 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1405092722

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Matthew Shardlake is an enigmatic lawyer, shunned and mocked by many in society, due to his physical deformity: he comes across as an immensely compassionate and clever man - born ahead of his time. Matthew shows immense physical and moral courage, strongly facing up to insults and taunts, at the same time as confronting a murderous enemy, who for most of the novel has the upper hand.

The minor characters-his assistant, Jack Barak (also a 'misfit', due to his Jewish heritage), and Dr Guy Malton (another unique character - the clever Morisco, expelled from his native Spain), are given more prominent roles in this novel, a fact which delighted me. I have long been hoping that these two charismatic characters would have a more prominent role, and by developing them, Sansom has added a large degree of insight into their troubled pasts - and curiosity too, as to their secrets… The intertwining of these characters is simply superb, and gives the reader many different slants with which to view events.

Events…yes. Here we have a veritable deluge of murders, each of which is re-enacted as an event from the Book of Revelations, and they are appalling in their brutality and extremity. The tension builds to an almost unbearable level - this is not a novel for the faint hearted. We know the form the next murder will take - but how will the murderer carry it out? (for example, And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river and the water thereof was dried up…) More importantly - WHO was the murderer? I had no idea whatsoever - a slight inkling, but couldn't quite make the facts fit the events: I was literally left guessing until the last chapter.

Alongside the murders, we have a secondary plot - that of a young lad, a patient in the Bedlam Hospital, placed their primarily for his own safety. At this time of Reformation, where his religious zeal could potentially lead to him being executed, Matthew agrees to defend him. He enlists the help of Dr Malton, and we are treated to a very interesting portrait of life in the hospital and mental illness. Realistically, Sansom could have spun a novel from this theme alone, and it's a huge bonus to have two such intriguing themes running concurrently in the one novel.

I particularly enjoy Sansom's style of writing, which is very evocative: his skill is not simply in concocting a very clever plot, but also in portraying the London of Tudor times, in a richly described tableau where people and town virtually come alive. We feel as if we're catching up with our old friends from the previous three novels, learning more about their lives, hopes and dreams, and finding more than a few unexpected twists in their characters, which hopefully Sansom will develop and explain in subsequent works.

Finally……Matthew is in love! But it looks as if that'll also be developed at a later stage. (Elaine twitching in impatience for novel no 5 in the series - please don't let it be long in coming!)

C J Sansom's Matthew Shardlake Novels in Chronological Order

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