Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Learning | Matthew Shardlake Mysteries

Historical mysteries are so much fun. The history nerd in me loves learning details of life in days of yore, or comparing what I already know about a certain time period with the author's portrayal. The best authors of historical fiction (whether they write in the mystery genre or not) write with a certain authoritative quality that only comes from extensive research and study of a subject.

For example, take a look at the author of the Matthew Shardlake series. C. J. Sansom not only earned both a B. A. and a PhD in history--he became a solicitor after all of that. His sleuth, Matthew Shardlake, is a solicitor in Tudor England. Sansom's realistic depiction of daily life--and legal conflicts--during the reign of Henry VIII make these mysteries hard to put down.  

The following is the first paragraph from the third book in the Shardlake series, Sovereign:

"It was dark under the trees, only a little moonlight penetrating the half-bare branches. The ground was thick with fallen leaves; the horses' hooves made little sound and it was hard to tell whether we were still on the road. A wretched track, Barak had called it earlier, grumbling yet again about the wildness of the barbarian land I had brought him to. I had not replied for I was bone-tired, my poor back sore and my legs in their heavy riding boots as stiff as boards. I was worried, too, for the strange mission that now lay close ahead was weighing on my mind. I lifted a hand from the reins and felt in my coat pocket for the Archbishop's seal, fingering it like a talisman and remembering Cranmer's promise: 'This will be safe enough,there will be no danger.'" 

Shardlake has a hunchback, or crooked spine, which causes him physical pain, but also engenders ill will from people who believe that deformity is a sign of evil.  He is an intelligent,  erudite, perceptive gentleman.  It's interesting to watch his character change as the series progresses; he is much more naive and idealistic in the first book, Dissolution. He becomes increasingly wary of others' motives as he grows older.

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