BOOK REVIEW: Tombland by C J Sansom

Blurb (from Goodreads):  Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos ... The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Protector. The extirpation of the old religion by radical Protestants is stirring discontent among the populace while the Protector's prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure and threatens to involve France. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry. Since the old King's death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry's younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of the wife of a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth's mother, John Boleyn - which could have political implications for Elizabeth - brings Shardlake and his assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake's former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding the death of Edith Boleyn, as a second murder is committed. And then East Anglia explodes, as peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. The yeoman Robert Kett leads a force of thousands in overthrowing the landlords and establishing a vast camp outside Norwich. Soon the rebels have taken over the city, England's second largest. Barak throws in his lot with the rebels; Nicholas, opposed to them, becomes a prisoner in Norwich Castle; while Shardlake has to decide where his ultimate loyalties lie, as government forces in London prepare to march north and destroy the rebels. Meanwhile, he discovers that the murder of Edith Boleyn may have connections reaching into both the heart of the rebel camp and of the Norfolk gentry . . .


My Thoughts:

I got all excited when I saw that there was a new C. J. Sansom book out! I love his Matthew Shardlake mysteries. They are set in Tudor times, and never fail to shine a new light on this fascinating period of history. I popped up to the bookshop to buy it straight away. It’s a big thick tome of a book, at 865 pages, but C.J. Sansom has the knack of keeping the story moving along swiftly. This is the 7th book in the series, but - like most murder mysteries - you do not need to read in order (though I always do).

The story is set in 1549. Henry VIII has died, and his eleven-year-old son Edward is king. His uncle Edward Seymour – Jane Seymour’s brother - rules as Protector. There is a great deal of unrest, with religious tension between Protestants and Catholics exacerbated by war with Scotland. Matthew Shardlake, who is a lawyer and a hunchback, is asked by the young Lady Elizabeth to investigate a case in which a distant relative of hers has been accused of murder. So he and his assistant set off to Norwich, to interview John Boleyn, accused of murdering his wife Edith. The mystery is a puzzling one, with an element of sexual sadism in it that makes all involved uneasy. Just as Matthew feels he is getting closer to the truth, a few key witnesses die or disappear … and then he and his friends are caught up in an uprising of peasants, seeking to protest the injustice of the feudal system and to bring attention to their own sad plight.

Soon the king’s forces are converging on Norwich as they seek to crush the rebellion. Matthew needs all of his wits simply to survive, but in his usual dogged way never forgets the mystery he is there to solve. C. J. Sansom does a brilliant job of bringing history to life, and showing the complexities of the situation. At no time does the pace flag, and I didn’t skip a single passage despite the book’s great length. And the solution to the murder is most satisfyingly – tricky and yet believable.

A wonderful historical murder mystery series – I don’t think I will ever tire of them.

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres – and I love time travel stories too. Have you read anything by Susannah Kearsley yet? Check out my review of her novel Mariana here:


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Kate Forsyth
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