Every now and then I need a break from theological works and a good murder mystery usually does the trick. Heartstone is the fifth in the Shardlake stories and having enjoyed the previous four I was looking forward to this one.
There are lots to enjoy; I like the main character Matthew Shardlake, the humpback London lawyer. Kind hearted, slightly self-pitying and a persistent terrier when it comes to his cases. All the other supporting characters have grown on me too. Sansom tells a story well and keeps the pages turning, which is just as well as there are nearly 700 of them this time around. In fact this book isn’t really one mystery but two woven together – madness, rape, royal intrigue, war, family secrets – Sansom throws the lot into this one and it could be a real mess but it holds together and despite all the different plot elements it never feels too unwieldy or contrived.
What sets Sansom’s tales apart for me is that he really gets the history bit, the mood of the times are excellently done and the real historical characters that weave in and out of the story are well done and blur fact and fiction nicely. Heartstone is set against the backdrop of the last of Henry VIII misadventures in France and the scenes set on the Mary Rose give the book excellent tension in its climatic scenes.
As with all the others I thoroughly enjoyed the book and hope there are future Shardlake installments, although 700 pages is a fat book and perhaps would have better nearer the 550-600 mark.