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Monday, April 6, 2015

Lamentation. C.J.Sansom. Mantle (2014)

A gripping and greatly enjoyable historical mystery set London 1546 in the last months of Henry VIII's reign. As Henry is declining the political and strongly related religious currents in the country begin to swirl very violently as the the Protestant and Catholic factions at court struggle for dominance. Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer is called to the to the Queen, Catherine Parr, who has written a book which has been stolen. The book is a religious tract which potentially could anger the King and threaten the Queen. Shardlalke agrees to search for the book and finds that he is not the only one searching for the book and that he has been drawn into a very dangerous situation. The story unfolds at a steady pace, the reveals are very well staged, the action is sharp and the conclusion satisfying, surprising and very sharp.
One of the major strengths of the book is is the way that C.J.Sansom  has confidence in his own writing and uses a very simple plot and is willing to let the mix of historical circumstances and characters  drive the story. At a time of highly increased political uncertainty it does not take much to cause ripples and the S.J.Sansom takes full advantage of this, the slim story line is all that the cast need to propel them through entirely believable danger and stress. The rolling sub-plot regarding a disputed inheritance is nicely set up to draw in the danger that surrounded everyone at the time.
The cast are more than equal to the task they have of sustaining reader interest across a long narrative, Matthew Shardlake, the narrator is a man who has discovered doubts about the religious fires that burned in him in his younger years. This, in addition to being physically different, make him a outsider and therefore both a problem to those in power and a useful tool. Shardlake has a wry appreciation of the contradiction and struggles to keep his feet, head and loyalty in slippery circumstances. He is thoughtful, humane and deeply engaging, he is at enough of an angle to the times to be an excellent point of entry for a reader. His need to carefully read his situation all the time provides the extra information a reader needs without ever interrupting the flow of the story.
The supporting cast are loud and noisy, demanding and rewarding the readers attention as they move through the story. Each of them is given the time and attention to emerge as themselves, even through the veil of a first person narrative. From Shardlake's steward to the Queen, the individual voices and responses to stress and danger reveal the cast as developed characters.
The unifying theme of the book is about loyalty, how is it earned, used and abused and the most affecting aspect to this is the friendship between Shardlake and an Catholic ex-monk Guy Malton, another outsider. Their friendship is tested and strained by the choices both make, and Shardlake's feelings about the impact on his relationship with Guy is drawn with subtle care.
This is a first rate political thriller about the dangers and opportunities that arise around a transition in power, the setting is safely far away in time, the mechanics are all too relevant to today.

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