Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Mathew Shardlake Books


Gosh, I realize I haven't been attentive to my blog lately but as many of you know I have a very good excuse. Baby Benjamin  is doing great and growing fast. He's turning three months on May 3rd. How time flies! However, I haven't been reading as much as I usually do. When last I checked, I've only read ten books this year. My book club has been assigned a door stopper of a novel, a Japanese classic, Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa. While it does seem like an interesting story, the weight of the book in its hardbound edition is just not conducive to bedside reading so I've been trying to read a few pages here and there during the day. At night, I prefer to snuggle up with the Mathew Shardlake mysteries on my Kindle.

Ah yes, I'm completely enamored of my Kindle. Where has it been all my life? I never thought I'd be an e-reader but it's just so easy to read on it and somehow to have several books in one device is just a comforting thought. I can even fill it up with past favorites so I can dip into them whenever I want to and wherever I want to. I like the highlighting feature, which is great if you're a bookblogger and let's not forget, the dictionary, which is also fantastic.

But ok, back to what I've been reading. Besides my Kindle, I'm hooked on the Mathew Shardlake mysteries by C.J.Sansom. These are books I've seen in every bookstore piled up on the display tables or shelves but I never gave them a second look. Based on the covers, I thought they were something a la Robert Harris or Dan Brown which are both definitely not my cup of tea. However, when a friend mentioned she was a fan of the Shardlake books, I had to check it out. Mathew Shardlake is a hunchback solicitor during the Tudor era who solves mysteries much in the same vein as Umberto Eco's The Name of The Rose minus the Latin. The books are in chronological order so it's best if you read them starting with the first book Dissolution and move on from there. So far there are five books in the series, the last of which, Heartstone, is currently on the longlist for an Edgar award.

Dissolution involves murders in a monastery. It's rich in period detail with the English Reformation in full swing and Thomas Cromwell as the vicar-general, at the helm of King Henry VIII's monarchy. Cromwell dispatches Shardlake to investigate the murders. As more murders ensue and the story unfolds, Shardlake find himself growing increasingly doubtful of the reformation he once staunchly believed in. Dark Fire, the second Shardlake book, begins a few years after Dissolution ends, with Shardlake engaged to defend a young girl accused of  murdering her young cousin.  The girl refuses to speak and, under English law, unless she offers a plea in court she will be crushed to death. Cromwell offers the girl a two-week reprieve if Shardlake agrees to undertake a secret mission involving a formula for dark fire, a powerful weapon.

Both books are brilliantly plotted by Sansom who holds a PhD in History. The books are amazingly rich in historical flavor up to the miscroscopic details...London in the 16th century in all its squalid and stinking glory;  the citizens and monks affected by the reformation and the major upheaval in their lives. It's interesting  how much research Sansom put into these books. Definitely try them if you love historical fiction and mysteries plus Shardlake is a wonderful character. My new hero. I just read that Kenneth Branagh might play him for a BBC series that's in the works but I'm thinking maybe Viggo Mortensen fits the part better. He'd still be attractive even as a hunchbank.


Well, we'll just have to wait and see but I'm sure it will translate to the small screen very well. Now on to the third book in the series, Sovereign. Exciting!

10 comments:

  1. mmmm....Vigo....sorry about that. hehe. These books sound fantastic! Mysteries aren't really my thing, but I've been looking for a richly accurate historical fiction work for ages, and these sound like they just might fit the bill. I'm off to locate a copy - thanks for the wonderful review, and I'm so glad that both Kindle and Baby are working out well for you!

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  2. Hi, Mrs. B. I've been passing these books by at Fully Booked, too. But your review has finally piqued my interest. I do like me a smart mystery.

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  3. I love the Shardlake books! I even gave 48 copies of Dissolution away for free on World Book Night! http://bloomsburybell.blogspot.com/2011/03/world-book-night-countdown.html

    I am so tempted to get a Kindle now...

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  4. I love books where the setting is a monastery. This sounds like an excellent book.

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  5. @wereadtoknow and @fantaghiro23 - Yes, do try Shardlake. I'm sure you'll both enjoy these books.

    @Bloomsbury Bell - nice to find another fan. What a great choice for World Book Night!

    @Bibliophile by the Sea - Diane, you will love this series!

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  6. This sounds interesting. I admire historical writers and the time they spend on research.
    Ann

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  7. I've read them all and have even bought them as they've been published I've enjoyed them so much. Such fascinating characters, and, as you say, they seem lovingly researched without the history sticking out and showing how clever Sansom is in a bad way!

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  8. I hear you loud and clear on I-never-thought-I'd-be-an-ereader-but...I can so commiserate with the weight and heft of a doorstopping book (still interested to know if you consider it worthy of a place on the Japanaese Literature 5 Suggested Reading list I'm putting together).

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  9. Well now I'm going off to look for these. Thanks for the recommendation. Congrats on the new baby!

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  10. I have read them all and itching for more. Mmm, Viggo, I can see your point but I would like to see Sean Bean as Jack Barak although he may be a little old now????????

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