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!