In The Refuge Of Law

Review of Heartstone; C. J. Sansom; Pan Macmillan 2010; pp 724; Rs 299

– Shana Susan Ninan

That this novel is the last one in the five-novel Shardlake series of mystery works by C. J. Sansom and happens to be the only one I could get my hands on was my only disappointment when I finished his Heartstone. Sansom captures the best and worst features of Tudor history in his novel that includes murder, mystery, legal tangles, impersonation, dissolution of monasteries, the move towards Protestant Reformation and a fragment of peasant revolts.

A near realistic representation of the history of the people and the land during Henry VIII’s reign includes good research and revelation of the people’s life, work and even their norms and taboos. In the year 1545, the King is waiting to inercept the angry French fleet at Portsmouth, close to where Shardlake is out on court duty. The French have promised retribution for the King’s invasion of their land earlier, and have taken the Scots into confidence for a double-sided attack, with England sandwiched between the two forces.

Shardlake is informally appointed by the Queen to investigate the “monstrous wrongs” done to Hugh Curteys, son of her former maid. This is a good opportunity for the lawyer to look into his friend Ellen Fettiplace’s puzzling stay in the Bedlam. Truth to say, he uncovers much more than he can endures. Running back and forth between the various crime scenes and going after suspects, with the threat of war close at hand, he’s short on time and energy to wrap up the cases and head back to London.

Sansom grew up in Birmingham and went on to do a PhD on the British Labour party’s policy towards South Africa between the wars. In Heartstone, he creates the right atmosphere of the plot in a splendid pattern that clips the reader to the book. His background in property law, politics and history shows through in the book. The characters are clear-cut, evolving within the plot itself to engross us more. It’s a trifle bit sad that the “action” in the book starts out pretty late… Added to that, the book is quite long for the average mystery reader.  But once Sansom’s words spin mysterious circumstances, the book is superbly enjoyable, the length notwithstanding.

My favourite character is Barak, his trusted friend and aide. Barrack travels with him to the ends of England and doesn’t waste an instant to advice Shardlake. Although he’s on another end of the pole and quite different in view and method from Shardlake, Barak gets on well with the novel’s protagonist. Peppered with intrigue, humour and thrilling moments, this is one of the best works of blending history and fiction I’ve read in a while.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)
In The Refuge Of Law, 9.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

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This entry was posted on Sunday, October 9th, 2011 at 12:18 pm and is filed under Historical Thriller, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


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