I don’t quite know why it is that airplane travel saps the brain in quite the way that it does, but there is no doubt that it’s impossible to read anything at all complicated on planes. So this weekend when I had to make a quick trip to not-so-sunny Queensland to teach my elderly mum (a) how to use a laptop for the first time in her life and (b) how to order her groceries online, I was very glad indeed to have an engrossing historical novel to read on the return flight. (Especially since I couldn’t get a direct flight and had to hang about in Sydney for 90 mins before my flight home to Melbourne).
Sovereign is third in the Shardlake series of historical mysteries by C.J.Sansom. It’s set in the Tudor period, when Henry VIII was still married to the hapless No 5, Catherine Howard. Matthew Shardlake is given the job of accompanying the Royal Progress to Yorkshire, where Henry is to receive the grovelling abasements of the locals who supported the recent rebellion, and Shardlake, a lawyer, is to sort out the petitions that go before the king’s court. He has also a job for which he has much less enthusiasm: to supervise the treatment of a political prisoner, so that he is in good health when taken to the Tower for torture.
Before long however, Shardlake becomes embroiled in a murder mystery. One of the glaziers removing the stained-glass windows in the wash-up of the Dissolution of the Monasteries suffers a gruesome death, and it has to do with the plotting that always surrounded the Succession in an era where monarchs and their presumed heirs so often died young and there was no such thing as DNA testing. As a staunch republican myself, I was delighted by the intricate ins-and-outs of a plot that purports a rival claim to the throne of Henry VIII and his successors. (If the claim were true, at least the Australian monarch would have lived here in Australia).
Anyway, it’s a compelling plot, hard to put down, very well-written and completely convincing. I like conspiracy theories: It put me in mind of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Baudolino and Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost which I enjoyed too.
Author: C.J. Sansom
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Source: gift from my father
Fishpond: Sovereign (Shardlake Series)