Skip to main content

Nothing to lament about here

I'm not a great reader of historical fiction with the exception of titles where it overlaps with crime. Perhaps the greatest proponent of that crossover is C. J. Sansom, and his latest novel, Lamentation, featuring the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, operating in the complex times of Tudor England, is to my mind his best. Oddly, this is despite - or, rather, because - this isn't much of a crime novel. Instead what we have here is a full blown Tudor political thriller, with all the twists and turns, machinations and backstabbing (in this case sometimes literally) that you would expect in the modern equivalent.

The crime that Shardlake investigates appears simple. The disappearance of a compromising manuscript written by Henry VIII's last queen (on whom Shardlake has a long-term crush), Catherine Parr. But the setting, mixing the dangerous teetering between traditionalist, near-Catholic beliefs and 'reformer' protestant beliefs with the political manoeuvring that became ever more strong as Henry's death became obviously close is fascinating, engrossing and gripping.

I admit I'm probably the ideal reader of this book. I read a lot of crime, I like political thrillers, my favourite music is from this period and I find both the religious and political battles absorbing. All three of Henry's children, who haven't featured much in the previous Shardlake books, appear towards the end, and with the prescience of foreknowledge we can feel sorry for Edward, a shudder at what Mary will be responsible for, and hope for Elizabeth - directed by Sansom's expert light touches.

It's a long book at 642 pages, and this would usually put me off, but for once it is justified as there really is never a feeling that the author is padding things out. In reality, the book ends at page 619 with the rest taken up with historical notes - don't skip these as they fill in some details that you will probably find extremely enlightening. I certainly did.

So there we have it: gripping, historically impressive, yet never overloading the detail to the extent you feel that you are being educated, a page turner and yet thoughtful too. Wonderful.

Lamentation is available from and
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you  


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Best writing advice

I saw on Twitter the other day (via someone I know answering it), the question 'What's the best writing advice you would give to someone who wants to become a writer?' My knee-jerk response was 'Don't do it, because you aren't one.' What I mean by this is that - at least in my personal experience - you don't become a writer. Either you are one, or you aren't. There's plenty of advice to be had on how to become a better writer, or how to become a published writer... but certainly my case I always was one - certainly as soon as I started reading books.  While I was at school, I made comics. I wrote stories.  My first novel was written in my teens (thankfully now lost). I had a first career that wasn't about being a writer, but I still wrote in my spare time, sending articles off to magazines and writing a handful of novels. And eventually writing took over entirely. If you are a writer, you can't help yourself. You just do it. I'm writ