Sansom, C J - 'Heartstone'
It's been two years since the last Shardlake novel from CJ Sansom, but trust me it was worth the wait.
Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Barak travel to Hampshire to investigate a case of possible wrongdoing against a young ward of the court. He's taken the case at the request of Queen Catherine Parr. As we begin the novel, England is preparing for war against France and a huge fleet of ships is gathering at Portsmouth to repel the French. Hampshire is not a very safe place to be but that's where Shardlake must go. While there he wants to take a look at the case of the young woman incarcerated in Bedlam, whom he befriended in the previous book. Something terrible happened to Ellen Fettiplace to drive her into Bedlam and keep her there for all those years and Shardlake wants to find out what happened and who's been paying for her stay.
This novel just doesn't disappoint. It's full of period detail and links beautifully with the events of the day, including Shardlake visiting the Mary Rose. The sense of fear in England at the time as the French Navy creeps closer, is well portrayed. The relationship between Barak and Shardlake is interesting and has changed over the period of the books. In fact that's one of the things I like about this series, that it constantly moves the characters on, both physically and emotionally. Each book works well in its own right, but also functions as part of a greater whole, which can only be a good thing. And this is not to say that you would only understand this novel properly if you have read the previous ones because I don't think that's true. There are references to previous storylines, but not enough that they would bemuse someone who's picking this series up for the first time.
For me this was a book that I didn't want to end. I was so wrapped up in the plot and the characters that I wanted to keep on reading and I was sad when it finished. Not so many books work for me in that way, but this one is really good, and it makes you want more. Lets hope it's not another two years before the next one.
Pat Austin, England