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by C. J. Sansom

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Matthew Shardlake (6)

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1,0264520,218 (4.26)108
While King Henry VIII lies on his deathbed, Queen Catherine Parr searches for the person who murdered the London printer who had her shocking, confessional memoir.

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» See also 108 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
In summer 1546, Henry VIII’s much-abused, overindulged body begins to fail, and the London court vultures jostle for a perch from which to become regent for the next king, the boy Prince Edward. Religious conflict will likely determine who triumphs in this struggle, and those deemed heretics pay with their lives, often at the stake. In this combustible atmosphere, Queen Catherine, who’d like to be regent for her stepson, has made a potentially fatal blunder. In secret, without telling Henry, she has written a religious confession, Lamentation of a Sinner, which wouldn’t pass theological muster, and which has been stolen.

Very likely, the thief acted on behalf of a powerful lord who desires her downfall, and there are many of those. Pick your preferred form of treason: disloyalty to the throne, or heresy? Either crime could send Catherine to the block, just like two of her predecessors, whose jewels and clothes she wears. And despite Henry’s ill health, his mind’s still sharp, as are his executioners’ axes.

Through her uncle, Lord Parr, she summons Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer who has helped her before with his superior skills at detection and reasoning. A commoner, a hunchback, and more of a free-thinker than he reveals to any but his intimates, Matthew must exercise the greatest caution around ruthless, ambitious courtiers jealous of their prerogatives, who despise him for his looks, birth, and possible heresy.

Accusations of heresy have become an effective, if two-edged, political weapon, often based on such concepts as whether Christ’s blood and flesh appear in fact at communion or symbolically. Given the loose, abstract nature of the argument, any utterance may be (mis)construed according to the hearer’s wishes or prejudices, one way to dispose of an enemy. Further complicating Matthew’s investigation, printers known for or suspected of heretical thinking have been murdered. Did they have the queen’s manuscript? And if so, do the killers possess it now? Do they mean to publish it and destroy the queen that way, or do they have other plans?

Sansom skillfully intertwines these mysteries with the politics of the day. It takes getting used to the notion that anyone would persecute anyone else over such fine distinctions of ritual and believe themselves righteous in doing so. But before long, you understand the mindset that makes this possible, because the social attitudes in this book feel internal to the characters, not merely slipped into their mouths.

To back off this extraordinary novel a second, I’m irritated when I tell people I write historical fiction, and all they focus on is the research I must have to do, as if that were the hard, original part. What about the supreme difficulties of crafting a credible, compelling narrative, in words nobody else has used in exactly that way, and which must pull the reader in on every page? So when I hear such remarks, I’m tempted to reply that anyone can go to the library.

Well, Sansom is the library. He knows every building in sixteenth-century London: which ones stood next to it, what it looked like, who built it, with what materials, who owned it, and how they came by it. That’s just for starters; you see the lords strut, the hangers-on fawn, the supplicants grovel for a sinecure with the great. Among the common folk, you see beggars, lawyers, peddlers, merchants, artisans — you name it.

Such knowledge of detail, almost always wielded with impressive dexterity, conveys a dazzlingly rich portrait of Tudor London. To be sure, Sansom occasionally resorts to information dumps, and he sometimes repeats phrases or facts. But in a narrative as long as this one, with as many reversals as I can count, all revolving around Byzantine power struggles, a reminder of who’s in whose camp doing what can be helpful. And talk about pulling the reader in on every page; Lamentation is a mesmerizing story.

The characters appeal to me less. Matthew, aside from his penchant for setting the record straight, which invariably costs his friends, has no great flaw that I can see. Most characters, though rendered in physical vividness, seem ruled by a single trait, or at most, two. But the excellent storytelling and the never-flagging sense of the physical involve you, and you'll keep guessing the outcome until the end. ( )
  Novelhistorian | Jan 27, 2023 |
Sixth book in the Shardlake series of historical mysteries. Everybody’s favourite hunch-backed lawyer once again finds himself embroiled in court intrigue when Catherine Parr asks him to find a book she’d rather not see the light of day. Stolen from a locked box to which only she has a key and the title page having been found clutched in the hand of a murdered printer Shardlake is tasked with finding the book and why it’s not yet seen the light of day. For if it does she would most likely follow the path of Henry’s previous wives and supporters of the Protestant faith that currently hold sway would be discredited at a time crucial to the future of the kingdom as the king draws near death.

The fictitious mystery is cleverly woven in with actual events of the time being set in the time of Anne Askew’s burning and includes mostly real people. Weighing in at over 700 pages this is another brick but there is hardly any let up in the suspense as the mystery unfolds. Although I’d guessed part of the ending I didn’t quite get to all of it. Another quality entry into a very good series. One more book to go! ( )
  AHS-Wolfy | Jan 20, 2023 |
Another great book in the Matthew Shardlake mystery series. These are excellent stories, full of intrigue and are historically accurate. I look forward to the next one.
( )
  Nefersw | Jan 14, 2022 |
These go from strength to strength, although I think Shardlake is more unlucky than most in his choice of steward. There were quite a few fight scenes in this one - however benign Shardlake's case initially appears, it inevitably becomes perilous - all of which ended disastrously. This series is fascinating in its depiction of the way religion and politics and daily life were so intertwined. ( )
  pgchuis | Dec 19, 2020 |
I have stepped away from C.J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series for a while. Now is the time to return. I absolutely love this series. Hate finishing a book and leaving the magnificent characters behind. ( )
  lynnbyrdcpa | Dec 7, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
"The rich period details burnish Sansom’s status as one of today’s top historical writers."
added by bookfitz | editPublishers Weekly (Dec 15, 2014)
"Shakespearean characterization and Byzantine plotting: Amid all the stink and muck of Tudor London, Sansom offers a master class in royal intrigue."
added by bookfitz | editKirkus Reviews (Dec 15, 2014)
"Lamentation, like its predecessors, is a triumph both as detective fiction and as a novel, and its 615 pages never drag."
"There is little doubt that the popularity of the Shardlake series is partly due to the fact that the books fulfil the morbid function of Horrible Histories for grownups. Yet Sansom, who trained both as a historian and a solicitor, is no mere blood-and-guts entertainer."

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sansom, C. J.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rekiaro, IlkkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Roz Brody, Mike Holmes, Jan King and William Shaw, the stalwart writers' group, for all their comments and suggestions for Lamentation as for the last seven books.
First words
I did not want to attend the burning.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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While King Henry VIII lies on his deathbed, Queen Catherine Parr searches for the person who murdered the London printer who had her shocking, confessional memoir.

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Book description
Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. As heretics are hunted across London, and radical Protestants are burned at the stake, the Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry's sixth wife--and Matthew Shardlake's old mentor--Queen Catherine Parr.

Shardlake, still haunted by his narrow escape from death the year before, steps into action when the beleaguered and desperate Queen summons him to Whitehall Palace to help her recover a dangerous manuscript. The Queen has authored a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner, so radically Protestant that if it came to the King's attention it could bring both her and her sympathizers crashing down. Although the secret book was kept hidden inside a locked chest in the Queen's private chamber, it has inexplicably vanished. Only one page has been recovered--clutched in the hand of a murdered London printer.

Shardlake's investigations take him on a trail that begins among the backstreet printshops of London, but leads him and his trusty assistant Jack Barak into the dark and labyrinthine world of court politics, a world Shardlake swore never to enter again. In this crucible of power and ambition, Protestant friends can be as dangerous as Catholic enemies, and those with shifting allegiances can be the most dangerous of all.
Haiku summary
Amidst religious
distrust Shardlake must retrieve
a dangerous book.

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