Sunday, February 27, 2011

from the first word

Mere sentences in to reading C.J. Sansom's Heartstone, I was back in Henry VIII's London with Matthew Shardlake, the hunchback lawyer and solver of mysteries. Queen Catherine Parr has asked Shardlake to pursue the case of a former servant's son (now dead of a suicide?) who had filed a complaint in the Court of Wards against the adoptive family of the children he once tutored. When the Queen asks for a favor, one says yes so Shardlake takes the case even though he has no experience in the courts dealing with the orphaned children of the weatlhier classes. Shardlake is also investigating the mysterious background of a woman he has befriended--she is an inmate at Bedlam, the notorious "hospital" for the insane. Then there is the matter of the devalued currency caused by Henry raising taxes to fund a war against France, the impending birth of the child of Shardlake's assistance Barak (a former street ruffian) and his wife whose first child was stillborn. Shardlake is also dealing with the retired military man/martinet who has become his steward and bullies the other servants in Shardlake's home. This is just part of a complex and fascinating story filled with complex and interesting characters and unexpected twists and turns in the plot.

I am not a mystery fan but I devour the Shardlake stories. Matthew Shardlake is an intelligent and entertaining companion, very human and very frail (his hunchback gives him constant pain and he is often negligent of his back-strengthening exercises...sound familiar to anyone?). I can see the sights, smell the smells and feel the heat and humidity, unpleasant at the best of times but made more uncomfortable by the heavy robes and gowns required by the lawyer's trade. I resent any time when I'm not curled up in my chair or stretched out on my daybed, nose poked deep into the adventures of Matthew Shardlake.

I think I'll go spend some time with him right now!

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