Murders on the grounds of a monastery, 16th-century intrigue, an unconventional sleuth-readers might wonder if this is a knock-off Name of the Rose set two centuries later, but Sansom's debut is a compelling historical mystery in its own right, with fewer pyrotechnics and plenty of period detail. It is 1537; the English Reformation is in full swing; and Lord Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII's vicar-general, is busy shutting down papist institutions. When one of his commissioners is beheaded at a remote Benedictine monastery, Cromwell dispatches a second emissary, hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, to investigate the murder. What Shardlake and his companion, eager young Mark Poer, discover is a quietly bubbling cesspool of corruption, lust and avarice. The scope of the investigation quickly expands when a novice is poisoned and Shardlake finds the remains of a girl who served the monks in the monastery pond. Shardlake presses on by testing the alibis of the various corrupt monks, but Poer's objectivity is compromised when he becomes involved with the girl's successor, a bright, attractive woman named Alice Fewterer. As the investigation unfolds, Shardlake survives a murder attempt, and finally returns to London to tie his findings to higher-level intrigue. Sansom paints a vivid picture of the corruption that plagued England during the reign of Henry VIII, and the wry, rueful Shardlake is a memorable protagonist, a compassionate man committed to Cromwell's reforms, but increasingly doubtful of the motives of his fellow reformers. With this cunningly plotted and darkly atmospheric effort, Sansom proves himself to be a promising newcomer. (Apr. 28) Forecast: Readers who want something a step up in complexity from Ellis Peters's Cadfael series will find this satisfying fare. Foreign rights have already been sold in England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy and Spain, and Sansom will be introduced in the U.S. with a six-city author tour. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A historical mystery set in England in 1537, this first novel chronicles Vicar General Thomas Cromwell's aggressive efforts to close down monasteries throughout the realm. Ardent reformist lawyer Matthew Shardlake, rejected for the priesthood because of his hunched back and now a bitter enemy of the Catholic Church, aids Cromwell in his mission. His latest task is to discover who brutally murdered a fellow commissioner at a remote monasery. While investigating the slaying, he is also charged with "encouraging" the abbot to dissolve his monastery voluntarily. Naturally, solving the murder is far from straightforward, and terrible weather, uncooperative monks, and a distractingly attractive female servant bogs down the investigation. With a Ph.D. in history and a background in law, Sansom clearly harbors a deep affection for and knowledge of this historical period. However, his novel is unrelentingly grim in tone, as the reader is forced to plod along with Shardlake and the other mostly unlikable characters. Although the novel can be superficially compared with the historical mysteries of Iain Pears and Umberto Eco, their caliber of writing is much higher than Sansom's. Appropriate for large public libraries only. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-Laurel Bliss, Yale Arts Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A brilliant lawyer investigates murder in a monastery that's under attack by Henry VIII's greedy forces of secularism. It's 1537, and Dr. Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer operating on the fringes of the rapacious Tudor court, has been handed a case that may advance his career but is more likely to sink it. Thomas Cromwell, Henry's powerful and ruthless vicar general, has charged Shardlake with the investigation of a grisly crime on what should be holy ground: the Benedictine monastery in Scarnsea, Sussex. A lawyer sent down previously to lean on Scarnsea's abbot about a possible signing over of the monastery to the crown lost his head. With a sword. Shardlake, a great brain in a twisted body (he's a hunchback), can't say no. Having risen by his wits to a profitable legal career and ownership of a comfortable house in the city, he is indebted to his monarch's machinery. Besides, he, like Cromwell and, supposedly, the king, is firmly committed to the great religious reforms that have all but taken the country to war with the once supremely rich and powerful monasteries. Accompanied by his young clerk Mark, Shardlake plods through the frozen countryside to Scarnsea. What he finds is an institution despised by its neighbors, depleted by the reforms, demoralized by revelations of sodomy and unchasteness, and thoroughly spooked by the decapitation of the royal emissary. Understandably suspicious of nearly everyone, Shardlake comes to rely warily on the monastery's Moorish medic and becomes unhappily attracted to Alice, the comely and clever serving girl. Grilling his suspects like a modern detective, he sifts through the inevitable red herrings, turns up a new corpse, and dodges death by fallingstatuary. Handsome Mark, meanwhile, is getting lustful looks from the master of music and growing more familiar with Alice than suits the lawyer. And London is pressing for the case to be wrapped up. The right way. Spooky atmosphere and a wealth of fascinating historical tidbits suffer from rather grinding detective work.
"The sights, the voices, the very smell of this turbulent age seem to rise from the page. With his remarkable debut, C. J. Sansom can lay claim to a place among the most distinguished of modern historical novelists." —P. D. James
"Sansom seems to have been born with, or instinctively acquired, that precious balance of creativity and research that lets a mystery set in another time walk a delicate line between history and humanity." —Chicago Tribune
"With this cunningly plotted and darkly atmospheric effort, Sansom proves himself to be a promising newcomer." —Publishers Weekly
"This is a humdinger of a whodunnit. Read it!" —Colin Dexter