Tombland by C J Sansom

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

5*

It’s been a few weeks now since I finished reading Tombland, the seventh novel in C. J. Sansom’s Shardlake series. I wrote a Friday post, quoting the first paragraph and a teaser from page 56 and have been wondering what to write about the book as a whole. It is very long, is based on primary and secondary sources with notes and a bibliography. ‘Tombland‘ is an area within the city of Norwich and there’s a street plan on the endpapers of my hardback edition, showing the layout of Norwich and the position of Mousehole Heath in 1549. It is a most impressive book full of detail with a large cast of characters, and whatever I write will not do justice to it.

It’s 1549, Edward VI is king, a minor and England is ruled by the Duke of Somerset as Lord Protector. Rebellion is spreading in protest against the landowners’ enclosures of the common land. Edward’s sister, the Lady Elizabeth has asked Matthew Shardlake to make discrete investigations into the murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn. John Boleyn has been arrested and will be on trial at the Norfolk Assizes.

The murder mystery, however, is not the main focus of Tombland. Shardlake and his assistant, Nicholas Overton leave London for Norwich, begin their investigation, but as they leave Norwich they get caught up in a rebellion as thousands of peasants led by Robert Kett march on Norwich and establish a vast camp on Mousehole Heath on the land overlooking the city.

I knew about the early enclosures of common land, but hadn’t heard of Kett’s Rebellion before. A large part of the book follows the sequence of events that made up the Rebellion (with more detail given in the Historical Essay at the end of the book). Shardlake is forced to join the rebels. He then has little control over events in the rebel camp and has to search his conscience to decide whether to help them and where his loyalties actually lie. His sympathies lie with the common people ousted from the land they had previously used and so, when Robert Kett asks for his advice at the trials held at the ancient oak, they called the ‘Oak of Reformation’ to ensure that the proper legal procedures are followed he agrees.

Meanwhile Shardlake has not forgotten about Edith’s murder and as the rebels take over the city of Norwich for a while he is allowed to visit John Boleyn, held a prisoner in Norwich Castle, and convinced of John’s innocence he is determined to discover who really had murdered her. Surprisingly, he finds the key to the mystery back at the rebel camp.

Of course, it is far more complicated than I have outlined. Sansom’s research is thorough, so much so that reading his book takes you back in time evoking the sights, smells and atmosphere of the mid 16th century. The characters become real people, with their place in society clearly defined, and the changes in their economic conditions explained as a new ‘rural’ gentry class came into existence and the enclosures deprived the common people of the land they had traditionally used. It’s not just economic changes but also religious changes as the new Book of Common Prayer has been introduced and people are upset by the changes and religious intolerance. It’s a time of great unrest:

Our misery is a laughing stock to those proud insolent men! We are like slaves, and farm our land only at the pleasure and will of the lords. For as soon as any man offends any of these gentlemen he is put out! The common pastures which have been our predecessors’ time out of mind are taken away; they are ditched and hedged in, the pastures enclosed …

We can no longer bear such great and cruel injury! We will rather take up arms than endure it! (page 394)

There is so much more to this book, skilfully written combining the historical facts and fiction. But it works well as a standalone book as enough information is given to understand the relationships of the characters from the earlier books. I was rather sad to see that Guy Malton (previously a monk and now licensed as a doctor), one of my favourite characters is now old and ill, but I was pleased to learn more about Jack Barak, Shardlake’s former assistant, and his on-off relationship with his wife Tamsin. Shardlake’s former servant, Josephine lives in Norwich and he is pleased to meet  up with her, her husband and young baby.

Tombland is a book with an emphasis on the people of the Tudor period – not just about royalty and national events. Protector Somerset is waging war against Scotland but that is only mentioned, Edward VI doesn’t appear, Mary, his sister is referred to, and Elizabeth, his other sister has a cameo role at her household in Hatfield Palace in Hertfordshire. With so much detail it has a slower pace than other books I’ve read recently but I loved the attention to detail and the descriptive writing which placed me precisely at the scenes.

  • Hardcover: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Mantle; Main Market edition (18 Oct. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447284488
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447284482
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My rating: 5*

 

My Friday Post: Tombland by C J Sansom

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring Tombland by C J Sansom, one of the books I’m currently reading.

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

It begins with a Prologue:

January 1549

I had been in my chambers at Lincoln’s Inn when the messenger came from Master Parry, asking me to attend to him urgently. I wondered what might be afoot. He was the Lady Elizabeth’s Comptroller, head of the financial side of her household, and I had worked under him since I was recommended to Elizabeth by Queen Catherine Parr two years before, following King Henry’s death.

It continues with

Chapter One

June 1549

It rained throughout our journey to Hatfield Palace; hard, heavy rain that dripped from our caps and made our horses’ reins slippery and slick. Occasionally, a gust of cold wind drove it at us slantwise; as though even now, in early June, the chill of the hard winter and cold spring was reluctant to let go of the land.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Pages 56 – 57:

I turned to the young man. ‘I understand that you visited Master Boleyn in gaol.’

Lockswood turned to his master, who nodded his agreement, then said, ‘I visited him last week in the castle gaol, where he is held until trial. An unpleasant place, sir, and Master Boleyn was in a sorrowful state. He seemed shocked by what had happened to him, kept doddering -‘

~~~

About the Book (extracted from Amazon)

Tombland is the seventh novel in C. J. Sansom’s number one bestselling Shardlake series.

It’s set in the summer of 1549, two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos . . .

The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector. The extirpation of the old religion by radical Protestants is stirring discontent among the populace while the Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure and threatens to involve France. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.

Matthew Shardlake is asked to investigate the murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn.  Then he and his assistants get caught up in the rebellion against the landowners’ enclosures of the common land as thousands of peasants led by Robert Kett establish a vast camp outside Norwich.

~~~

I am thoroughly absorbed by this book, reading it at a leisurely pace, enjoying all the details. I knew about the early enclosures of common land, but hadn’t heard of Kett’s Rebellion before. It’s a long book of 866 pages including an historical essay, Reimagining Kett’s Rebellion, notes and a bibliography.

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

Looking Forward to Reading …

Some of my favourite authors have new books coming out this year! Here they are in order of publication:

26 July 2018

Careless Love by Peter Robinson – the twenty fifth in his DCI Banks series.

Careless Love (Inspector Banks, #25)

 

‘With a deceptively unspectacular language, [Robinson] sets about the process of unsettling the reader.’ Independent

A young local student has apparently committed suicide. Her body is found in an abandoned car on a lonely country road. She didn’t own a car. Didn’t even drive. How did she get there? Where did she die? Who moved her, and why?

Meanwhile a man in his sixties is found dead in a gully up on the wild moorland. He is wearing an expensive suit and carrying no identification. Post-mortem findings indicate he died from injuries sustained during the fall. But what was he doing up there? And why are there no signs of a car in the vicinity?

As the inconsistencies multiply and the mysteries proliferate, Annie’s father’s new partner, Zelda, comes up with a shocking piece of information that alerts Banks and Annie to the return of an old enemy in a new guise. This is someone who will stop at nothing, not even murder, to get what he wants – and suddenly the stakes are raised and the hunt is on.

6 September 2018

Wild Fire (Shetland Island, #8)

Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves –  the eighth, and final book,  in her Shetland series featuring Detective Jimmy Perez.

Shetland: Welcoming. Wild. Remote.

Drawn in by the reputation of the islands, an English family move to the area, eager to give their autistic son a better life.

But when a young nanny’s body is found hanging in the barn of their home, rumours of her affair with the husband begin to spread like wild fire.

With suspicion raining down on the family, DI Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate, knowing that it will mean the return to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves, who will run the case.

Perez is facing the most disturbing investigation of his career. Is he ready for what is to come?

18 October 2018

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

Tombland is the seventh novel in C. J. Sansom’s Shardlake series.

Spring, 1549.

Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos . . .

The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Protector. The extirpation of the old religion by radical Protestants is stirring discontent among the populace while the Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure and threatens to involve France. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.

Since the old King’s death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry’s younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother – which could have political implications for Elizabeth, brings Shardlake and his assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake’s former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding Edith’s death, as a second murder is committed.

And then East Anglia explodes, as peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. The yeoman Robert Kett leads a force of thousands in overthrowing the landlords and establishing a vast camp outside Norwich. Soon the rebels have taken over the city, England’s second largest.

Barak throws in his lot with the rebels; Nicholas, opposed to them, becomes a prisoner in Norwich Castle; while Shardlake has to decide where his ultimate loyalties lie, as government forces in London prepare to march north and destroy the rebels. Meanwhile he discovers that the murder of Edith Boleyn may have connections reaching into both the heart of the rebel camp and of the Norfolk gentry . . .

Also 18 October 2018

A new Detective John Rebus novel – In a House of Lies – the 22 in his Rebus series.

In a House of Lies by [Rankin, Ian]

IN A HOUSE OF LIES

Everyone has something to hide
A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – both for his family and the police – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched.

Everyone has secrets
Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now – after a decade without answers – it’s time for the truth.

Nobody is innocent
Every officer involved must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

~~~

I am really looking forward to reading all these books!

Six Degrees of Separation from The Poisonwood Bible to …

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favourite books. I’ve read it several times.

The Poisonwood Bible

Told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959, The Poisonwood Bible is the story of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

I bought The Poisonwood Bible in Gatwick airport bookshop just before boarding a plane to go on holiday. So my first link in the chain is to another book I bought in an another airport bookshop waiting to board another plane:

Fortune's Rocks

It’s Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve. I had never heard of Anita Shreve, but I liked the look of this book – and the fact that it’s a chunky book of nearly 600 pages, good to read on holiday. It’s set in the summer of 1899 when Olympia Biddeford and her parents are on holiday at the family’s vacation home in Fortune’s Rocks, a coastal resort in New Hampshire. She is fifteen years old and this is the story of her love affair with an older man.

When I looked at it today, I saw that it’s written in the present tense. Recently I’ve been writing about my dislike of the present tense – but I obviously haven’t always disliked it, because I remember really enjoying this book.

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)

Another book written in the present tense that I loved is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the story of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, and his political rise, set against the background of Henry VIII’s England and his struggle with the Pope over his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, which takes me to my next link, another book set in the reign of Henry VIII –

Lamentation (Matthew Shardlake, #6)

Lamentation by C J Sansom set in 1546, the last year of Henry VIII’s life. Shardlake, a lawyer is asked by Queen Catherine (Parr) for help in discovering who has stolen her confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner. It evokes the people, the sights, smells and atmosphere of Henry’s last year and at the same time it’s an ingenious crime mystery, full of suspense and tension.

Barnaby Rudge

The next book also combines historical and crime fiction – Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens, set in 1780 at the time of the Gordon Riots.  It’s a story of mystery and suspense which begins with an unsolved double murder and goes on to involve conspiracy, blackmail, abduction and retribution.

Barnaby Rudge is a simple young man, living with his mother. His pet raven, Grip goes everywhere with him. He’s a most amazing bird who can mimic voices and seems to have more wits about him than Barnaby. Grip is based on Dickens’s own ravens, one of whom was also called Grip.

Ravens form the next link-

The Raven's Head

to The Raven’s Head by Karen Maitland, set in 1224 in France and England about Vincent, an apprentice librarian who stumbles upon a secret powerful enough to destroy his master. He attempts blackmail but when this fails Vincent goes on the run in possession of an intricately carved silver raven’s head. The plot revolves around the practice of alchemy – the search for a way to transform the base soul of man into pure incorruptible spirit, as well as the way to find the stone, elixir or tincture to turn base metals into precious metals.

And finally to the last link in this chain another book featuring alchemy –

Crucible (Alexander Seaton, #3)

Crucible by S G MacLean, the third of her Alexander Seaton books. Set in 1631 in Aberdeen Robert Sim, a librarian is killed. Alexander investigates his murder and finds, amongst the library books, works on alchemy and hermetics – the pursuit of ancient knowledge and the quest for ‘a secret, unifying knowledge, known to the ancients’ since lost to us. S G MacLean’s books are full of atmosphere. I think her style of writing suits me perfectly, the characters are just right, credible well-rounded people, and the plot moves along swiftly with no unnecessary digressions.

My chain this month has travelled from Africa to Scotland via America and England, and spans the years from the 13th century to the mid 20th century. It has followed a missionary and his family, a teenager in love with an older man, and looked in on power struggles in Tudor England, and the pursuit of the secret to turn metal into gold.

Links are: books I bought to read on holiday, books in the present tense, crime fiction and historical fiction (and a combination of these genres), ravens and alchemy.

Next month  (June 2, 2018), we’ll begin with  Malcolm Gladwell’s debut (and best seller), The Tipping Point, a book and author I’ve never come across before.

Lamentation by C J Sansom

Once again I am behind myself with writing about the books I’ve read! So here are just a few thoughts about C J Sansom’s historical novel, Lamentation, the sixth Matthew Shardlake book.

I have enjoyed the earlier books in the series so I had great expectations for Lamentation and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s set in 1546, the last year of Henry VIII’s life. Shardlake, a lawyer is asked by Queen Catherine (Parr) for help in discovering who has stolen her confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner. What I like about these books is their historical setting and the Historical Notes giving yet more background to the period and emphasising that because the sources are ‘very thin’ that inevitably this is Sansom’s own interpretation of events and clarifying that Catherine Parr’s book was not, in the real world, stolen.

The book evokes the people, the sights, smells and atmosphere of Henry’s last year and at the same time it’s an ingenious crime mystery, full of suspense and tension. It begins as Shardlake is ordered to watch the burning at the stake of Anne Askew and other heretics (a real event). I’m not good at reading horrific scenes, but I managed this one without too much mental aversion of my eyes. Along with the mystery of the missing book, Shardlake is working on the Cotterstoke dispute between rival siblings, and has problems at home with his domestic servants.

I was also very taken with Shardlake’s introduction in Lamentation to William Cecil, Mary Tudor and a young Elizabeth I. I hope Sansom has more Shardlake books in mind.

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph First chapterTuesday Intros, to share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

The Cabinet Room, 10 Downing Street, London, 4.30pm, 9 May 1940

Churchill was last to arrive. He knocked once, sharply, and entered. Through the tall windows the warm spring day was fading, shadows lengthening on Horse Guards Parade. Margesson, the Conservative Chief Whip, sat with Prime Minister Chamberlain and Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax at the far end of the long, coffin-shaped table which dominated the Cabinet Room. As Churchill approached them Margesson, formally dressed as ever in immaculate black morning coat stood up.

‘Winston.’

Churchill nodded at the Chief Whip, looking him sternly in the eye. Margesson, who was Chamberlain’s creature, had made life difficult for him when he had stood out against party policy over India and Germany in the years before the war.He turned to Chamberlain and Halifax, the Prime Minister’s right-hand man in the government’s appeasement of Germany. ‘Neville. Edward.’ Both men looked back; no sign today of Chamberlain’s habitual half-sneer, nor of the snappy arrogance which had alienated the House of Commons during yesterday’s debate over the military defeat of Norway. Ninety Conservatives had voted with the Opposition or abstained; Chamberlain had left the chamber followed by shouts of ‘Go!’ The Prime Minister’s eyes were red from lack of sleep or perhaps even tears – though it was hard to image Neville Chamberlain weeping. Last night the word around a feverish House of Commons was that his leadership would not survive.

This is the opening of Dominion by C J Sansom, a novel about what might have happened, an alternative history, if Germany had been triumphant in the Second World War. All events that take place in this book after 5 p.m. on 9 May 1940 are imaginary.

I’ve read and enjoyed Sansom’s earlier books, the five Matthew Shardlake historical mysteries and Winter in Madrid, historical fiction set in Spain in 1940, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to read Dominion, his latest book, described on the book jacket as ‘a vivid, haunting re-imagining of 1950s Britain’ and ‘a gripping, humane spy thriller and a poignant love story.’

I like the opening paragraphs I’m still not sure because ‘re-imaginings’ don’t exactly appeal to me. I prefer historical fiction to be historical and fiction to be fiction, not  an alternative version of history. But when I saw a copy on the library shelves I was tempted to at least look at it and brought it home to see if it’s any good. After all it’s written by C J Sansom, so it can’t be bad, can it?

Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass

A new challenge: Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a new challenge taking us on a 12 stage European Journey in Eurail Pass style. As our travel agent she has chosen 12 destinations for our journey. It began last Monday with with a stop in England. Click HERE for additional details.

The challenge is simple really.

You have to connect us to a blog post on your site that relates to crime fiction in the country we are visiting. The meme will enable us to share our knowledge and perhaps point out new reading opportunities to each other.

You can choose one of the following (or something more imaginative)

  • a book review (create a new one or revive an old one)
  • an author profile
  • a reading syllabus for crime fiction either set in this country, or written by authors from this country.

I don’t think I’ll be taking part every week, but for this week I’m in Spain, featuring C J Sansom’s Winter in Madrid, which I thought was one of the best books I’ve read. I wrote about on this blog back in January 2008, describing it as a book that had me in tears as I was reading about the devastation, desolation and waste of war. I little thought that a few years later we would be witnessing the devastation that has been happening here in England with the terrible riots that have been taking place this week.

Back to the book. I already knew from reading his 16th century crime thrillers that C. J. Sansom is a master storyteller and this book exceeded my expectations. It is an action packed thrilling war/spy story and also a moving love story and historical drama all rolled into this tense and gripping novel.

Sansom vividly conveys the horror and fear of the realities of life in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and the first two years of the Second World War. The opening chapter dramatically sets the tone for the book with the brutality of the Battle of Jarama in 1937 then leaps straight into the bombing of London in 1940. Then Harry Brett, traumatised by his injuries at Dunkirk is sent to Spain to spy for the British Secret Service. He is plunged into the terrible living conditions in Madrid where people are starving, children are left homeless to fend for themselves and wild dogs roam the rubble of bombed houses.

He turned into a square. Two sides had been shelled into rubble, all the houses down, a chaos of broken walls rising from a sea of shattered bricks and sodden rags of bedding. Weeds had grown up between the stones, tall scabrous dark-green things. Square holes in the ground half filled with green scummy water marked where cellars had stood. The square was deserted and the houses that had been left standing looking derelict, their windows all broken.

Harry had never seen such destruction on such a scale; the bombsites in London were small by comparison. He stepped closer, looking over the devastation. The square must have been intensively shelled. Everyday there was news of more raids on London ‘“ did England look like this now?

This is a long and detailed book, but it moves along rapidly, with believable characters, including the bullying Ambassador, Sir Samuel Hoare, Alan Hillgarth, the chief of intelligence (both of whom are real historical figures), diplomats, Spanish Monarchists and Falangists and the ordinary Spanish people. Franco’s Madrid is shown as a place where fear, poverty and corruption stalk the streets; where hatred and suffering are paramount. It’s a chilling picture, but Harry finds love too when he meets Sofia and plans her escape with him to England after he has completed his mission.

The question is will Franco maintain Spain’s neutrality and enter the war in support of Hitler? Harry’s cover is as an interpreter, whilst his mission is to make contact with Sandy Forsyth, who he had known at public school in England, gain his confidence and discover the truth behind the rumour that gold deposits have been discovered in Spain, which would boost the economy making Spain less reliant on British support. Harry, a reluctant spy, soon finds himself in danger. He is plagued by memories of another school friend Bernie Piper, an ardent Communist who had enlisted in the International Brigades and had disappeared, reported killed at the Battle of Jarama. Barbara, an ex- Red Cross nurse, now Sandy’s girlfriend and Bernie’s former lover is convinced Bernie was not killed She appeals to Harry for help in finding Bernie, and so the story moves to its climax.

With its haunting themes of corruption, murder, the power of authority and heroism Winter In Madrid captivated my imagination. It’s a book I’d like to reread some time.