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review 2020-06-07 13:58
Tombland - C.J. Sansom

by C. J. Sansom


Book 7 of the Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery series.


Set in the rebellions of 1549 during the reign of Edward VI, two years after the death of Henry VIII. The nominal king is eleven years old and his uncle, Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Edward's regent and Protector. Catholics and Protestants are at odds and the Lady Elizabeth has a personal interest in a murder of the wife of one of her distant relatives that she sends Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in her service, to investigate.


Medieval intrigue and mystery mostly keep attention through over 800 pages that cover among other things, Kett's Rebellion in the Tombland area of historic Norwich. These are real places and the history has been well researched. I did, however, think it was overly long. The books in this series contain a lot of detail of every move and I think it was asking a bit much to carry on with so much scrutiny for so long.


On one hand it's a good Historical Fiction, but it's also a murder mystery. I'll admit I'm not a big fan of murder mysteries in general and making me wait so long to find out who did it was torment! It is well done in the end though.


Those who do enjoy murder mysteries will have a great time trying to sift through the plentiful suspects and possible motives, both political and personal. The author leads us through a merry chase through all the possibilities. I did think that the final reveal was a little forced and not quite realistic, but by then I was just glad to have answers.

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review 2020-05-13 23:55
Weighed down by the author's need to show his research
Dominion - C.J. Sansom

Much like American history, British history seems to have a default setting when it comes to alternate history novels. For U.S. history, that setting is the Civil War, for which innumerable stories playing around with different outcomes and their consequences. For British history, however, the default to which authors keep returning is 1940, as they hypothesize how very different things might have turned out had Winston Churchill not become prime minister and fought on. Invariably the outcome is worse for Britain and the world, as the story's protagonists have to cope with the jackbooted heel of the Third Reich pressing down upon the nation's neck.


C. J. Sansom's book is just one example of this. Set in 1952, it imagines a world in which Lord Halifax was selected as prime minister in May 1940 instead of Churchill. The result is grim: after the German triumph in France in June, the British agree to a treaty that cedes domination of Europe to the Nazis. With their empire increasingly straining for independence, fascism steadily takes root in British politics. Yet a resistance movement headed by Churchill fights back against the slowly settling authoritarianism of the British government. Among their number is David Fitzgerald, a veteran of the "1939-40" war who supplies intelligence to the Resistance from his post as a civil servant in the Dominions Office. But when a friend from his years at university reaches out to him, Fitzgerald finds himself drawn into far more dangerous work. Before long Fitzgerald is on the run with his friend, with both Special Branch and a Gestapo agent hard on his heels.


The best alternate history novels tell gripping stories within a plausible world. Sansom succeeds brilliantly in the latter respect, as he has envisioned an alternative outcome that is distinctively different without being unrealistic. Yet the considerable amount of work Sansom put into detailing his ahistorical setting proves a weakness, as the author succumbs to the temptation to display his research in the text, Few chapters go by without details dropped about recent history or headlines from the contemporary world, all done in clunky bits of exposition. Though it demonstrates the impressive amount of thought Sansom put into his book, the sheer weight of it drags down the text. So too does Sansom's laborious retelling of his characters' backstories, which often drain any momentum from the plot. The combination causes Sansom's novel to collapse from its own weight, making it one of the more disappointing examples of a genre from which readers have an abundance of alternatives from which to choose.

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text 2020-05-13 19:48
Reading progress update: I've read 170 out of 629 pages.
Dominion - C.J. Sansom

On to the summer TBR reads at last! It's a book that I first read over a decade ago, when I was on a determined alternate history reading binge, and re-reading it again reminds me of why I was so underwhelmed by it. It seems that nearly every alternate history novel involving Britain and the Second World War involves a resistance and the effort to ferret out either the Holocaust or an atomic bomb project. This one is the latter, and while Sansom does some interesting things with it, he's a little too eager to show off his world-building and he burdens his book with character flashbacks that detract from the story's pacing. I'm going to be happy to add this one to the book box once I'm done with it.

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review 2020-03-26 15:32
Dissolution - C.J. Sansom

by C. J. Sansom


Book 1 of the Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery series.


This is the beginning of an ongoing series of Historical Mysteries that take place in the Tudor period of England. The books are all self-contained stand alone novels and the character who takes us through the progressing snippets of history is a high-level lawyer called Matthew Shardlake. In this first novel, it is 1537 and Lord Thomas Cromwell is the vicar general and supports the Reformation, as does Shardlake.


The country is divided between those who are faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to Henry VIII and his newly established Church of England. A murder leads Cromwell to bring in Shardlake to investigate.


Shardlake is a hunchback, which I thought was a brilliant way to bring diversity into a historical setting where not a lot of diversity existed. He is intelligent and thorough in his investigations and that can get him into some difficult situations when he uncovers uncomfortable evidence of such things as sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason.


Like much Historical Fiction, a lot of detail is included and it can take a while to get from one place to another. I wouldn't call it 'slow' because it keeps interest and seeing events from Shardlake's point of view works well with his detailed observations. It is basically a Mystery story, but within a historical context. The historical details look to be well-researched and accurate.


There's also a certain amount of dramatic action, especially at the end. I thought it was extremely well done and I enjoyed reading the historical notes after the end, as I always do when a Historical Fiction novel includes them.


Most importantly, the end really is the end. The first chapter of the next story in the series is included, but each story is complete and you don't have to buy another book to see what happened. If you enjoy a good historical mystery this is a good place to start as it develops Shardlake as a character and gives the reader some insight into how his deformity affects him as well as his thinking processes and how he came to be in his position, but after that the books could be read in any order.


A very intelligently written series.

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text 2019-11-04 21:34
Reading progress update: I've read 16 out of 197 pages.
A Morbid Taste for Bones - Ellis Peters
Dark Fire - C.J. Sansom

I first read this one in 2014. I've been making my way rather slowly through the series, and I own most of the back half of the books. I noticed the other day that the entire series is available on kindle unlimited at this point, and decided that this would be a good time to revisit my dear friend, Brother Cadfael.


I don't know what it is about the months of November & December, but I am drawn to fiction set during the medieval or the Victorian eras. It's probably because so many of our Yule/Christmas/Winter solstice traditions are drawn from those eras. Whatever the reason is, I definitely gravitate to historical fiction/historical mystery during the season.


Speaking of historical mystery, I finished Dark Fire, by C.J. Sansom. I didn't loved it as much as I loved Dissolution, and the first part seemed to drag a bit for me, but I did end up really enjoying it. And now that Cromwell is dead, I am curious to see where Matthew Shardlake's future takes him, having made an enemy of the Duke of Norfolk. I bought Sovereign with some of my kindle dollars, and I'm going to be starting that one very soon.

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