Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake 5) by CJ Sansom

Who guards the guardians?

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Queen Catherine Parr’s old servant comes to her with a legal problem, the Queen naturally turns to her old friend, Matthew Shardlake. The servant’s son had been tutor to two children until their parents died in one of the waves of sweating sickness that swept the country. The children, Hugh and Emma, had been given into the guardianship of an old family friend, Master Hobbey. Unfortunately smallpox ravaged the Hobbey family shortly after, killing Emma and leaving Hugh badly scarred. Some years later the tutor had visited Hugh, and had become outraged by something he saw as a monstrous wrong. He had placed a complaint with the Court of Wards, but before he could explain his concerns, he was found hanged. The verdict was suicide, but his mother finds that hard to believe. The Queen wishes Matthew to take up the case, with a view to finding out what it was that had so horrified the tutor, and to ensuring the well-being of Hugh. This will involve Matthew in making a trip to Master Hobbey’s home, Hoyland Priory, not far from Portsmouth, where the English army and fleet are massing to defend the country from an expected invasion by France.

Meantime, the story of Ellen Fettiplace continues from the previous novel. She is a woman Matthew met when he was dealing with a case that involved him visiting Bedlam, the lunatic asylum, where Ellen has been incarcerated for nineteen years. She has come to depend on Matthew, and he fears she has fallen in love with him. There is a mystery as to why she is in Bedlam and, since she came from a village in the same area as Hoyland Priory, Matthew decides to investigate while he’s there.

Book 2 of 20

The Shardlake books are so monumental in size and complexity that frankly it’s very hard to summarise what they’re about. The plots are always interesting and there are always several strands going on simultaneously, and at the same time Sansom fills in the historical background, gives a good deal of social history, and doesn’t forget to keep us up to date with the lives of all the regular characters. Here, we see the outcome of Henry VIII’s hubris in warring with France. Men are being conscripted into the army, huge warships are being built, vast expenditure on military preparations is causing high taxes on the wealthy and a devaluation in the coinage which is further impoverishing the poor; and in general England is suffering for Henry’s ego.

In Portsmouth, Henry’s favourite ship, the Mary Rose, has been refitted in preparation for the coming battle, and she plays her part in the plot too. Sansom manages to impart a ton of historical information interestingly, so we learn all about the ship and what it would have been like to serve aboard her, and we see how she fares when the battle commences. Shardlake and Barak travel south with a company of archers heading for Portsmouth, so we also learn about this aspect of warfare. And of course, Matthew as usual finds his cases leading back to the skulduggery of Henry’s court, so that we get an insight into the high politics of the day too. On top of all this, there’s lots of info about how wardship and guardianship worked, about the enclosure of common land, and about the legal system of the day. As I’ve said before, I’ve learned far more about the Tudor period from Sansom than from all the mighty history books I’ve ploughed through in my lifetime, with the added bonus that Sansom makes it interesting and enjoyable!

The Mary Rose
by Geoff Hunt, PPRSMA
via http://www.maryrose.org

Meantime, on the personal level, Jack is irritated to have to go away from London at this time, since Tamasin is heavily pregnant. Although Jack is still officially Matthew’s assistant, the two men are now close friends, almost family; and Jack, always loyal, is also able to be honest when he feels Matthew is making bad decisions. Guy is staying with Matthew after his shop was attacked, and Shardlake has a new steward who is not working out very well, and is giving Matthew yet another problem to solve.

Steven Crossley

Steven Crossley is again the narrator for this one, and his performance is really wonderful. It’s great having the same narrator for the whole series, since the recurring characters have the same voices each time, and I would find it very hard now to imagine the three major characters, Matthew, Jack and Guy, with different voices. But there’s always a cast of thousands (approximately) in a Shardlake novel, and Crossley does an amazing job of making each character distinct and individual, and immediately recognisable, which makes the listening experience so much easier and more enjoyable. He even does the women well, which is not always the case with male narrators. If the rumour is true that there’s a new Shardlake novel in the publishing pipeline, then I sincerely hope someone has already booked Crossley for the audio version!

You could certainly read this as a standalone in terms of plot, but to develop the emotional connection with the regulars it’s definitely better to read the series in order. And since each one is a masterpiece, that would certainly be no hardship – many, many hours of reading or listening pleasure!

Audible UK Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my recent reading in quotes…

….Kitty was lively; she was willing to chatter all day long and she laughed easily. His silence disconcerted her. He had a way which exasperated her of returning no answer to some casual remark of hers. It was true that it needed no answer, but an answer all the same would have been pleasant. If it was raining and she said: “It’s raining cats and dogs,” she would have liked him to say: “Yes, isn’t it?” He remained silent. Sometimes she would have liked to shake him.
….“I said it was raining cats and dogs,” she repeated.
….“I heard you,” he answered, with his affectionate smile.
….It showed that he had not meant to be offensive. He did not speak because he had nothing to say. But if nobody spoke unless he had something to say, Kitty reflected, with a smile, the human race would very soon lose the use of speech.

~ The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham

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….Wednesday of the third week following the Inquest was appointed for the magisterial inquiry, and during the interval Sergeant Ridgway was busily occupied, presumably in accumulating and piecing together various evidence. Of what it consisted no one but himself knew, nor did it appear whether or not its trend on the whole was favourable or disastrous to the unhappy prisoner, at the expense possibly of Cleghorn, or possibly to the complete exculpation of that injured man. The detective kept his own counsel, after the manner of his kind; and if any had thought to extract from the cover of that sealed book a hint of its contents, no reassuring message at least could have been gathered from its unlettered sombreness. But nobody asked, fearful of being thought to profane the majestic muteness of the oracle; and the labouring atmosphere lowered unenlightened as the days went on.

~ The Mystery of the Skeleton Key by Bernard Capes

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….In the sumptuously decorated Privy chamber, four richly dressed maids-in-waiting with the Queen’s badge on their hoods sat sewing by the window. Outside were the palace gardens, patterned flowerbeds and fishponds and statues of heraldic beasts. All the women rose and nodded briefly as I bowed to them.
….Queen Catherine Parr sat in the centre of the room, on a red velvet chair under a crimson cloth of state. Beside her a girl of about eleven knelt stroking a spaniel. She had a pale face and long auburn hair, and wore a green silken dress and a rope of pearls. I realised this was the Lady Elizabeth, the King’s younger daughter, by Anne Boleyn. I knew the King had restored Elizabeth and her half-sister Mary, Catherine of Aragon’s daughter, to the succession the year before, it was said at the Queen’s urging. But their status as bastards remained; they were still ladies, not princesses. And though Mary, now in her twenties, was a major figure at court and second in line to the throne after young Prince Edward, Elizabeth, despised and rejected by her father, was hardly ever seen in public.

~ Heartstone by CJ Sansom

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. . . we have all a chance of meeting with some pity, some tenderness, some charity, when we are dead: it is the living only who cannot be forgiven – the living only from whom men’s indulgence and reverence are held off, like the rain by the hard east wind. While the heart beats, bruise it – it is your only opportunity; while the eye can still turn towards you with moist timid entreaty, freeze it with an icy unanswering gaze; while the ear, that delicate messenger to the inmost sanctuary of the soul, can still take in the tones of kindness, put it off with hard civility, or sneering compliment, or envious affectation of indifference; while the creative brain can still throb with the sense of injustice, with the yearning for brotherly recognition – make haste – oppress it with your ill-considered judgments, your trivial comparisons, your careless misrepresentations. The heart will by-and-by be still – ubi saeva indignatio ulterius cor lacerare nequit; the eye will cease to entreat; the ear will be deaf; the brain will have ceased from all wants as well as from all work. Then your charitable speeches may find vent; then you may remember and pity the toil and struggle and the failure; then you may give due honour to the work achieved; then you may find extenuation for errors, and may consent to bury them.

From The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

~ The Origins of Science Fiction edited by Michael Newton

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 333…

Episode 333

After last week’s dramatic rise, the TBR has had an equally dramatic fall this week, partly due to some quick reads aided by an abandonment or two! Down 5 to 177! That’s better!

So sorry I’m behind with answering your lovely comments and reading your lovelier posts. Blame Rafa and his pals! I’ll catch up soon, promise!

Anyway, here are a few more I should get to once the tennis is over… a crime week this week!

Crime

The Truth Will Out by Rosemary Hennigan

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. No particular reason for this one – I just liked the sound of the blurb. Plus I always enjoy reading an occasional debut novel in the hopes of finding a new favourite author…

The Blurb says: Dara Gaffney is fresh out of drama school when she lands the leading role in the revival of Eabha de Lacey’s hugely successful yet controversial play.

Based on the true story of the death of Cillian Butler, many claim that Eabha had an ulterior motive when she penned it. Cillian’s death remains a mystery to this day, and Eabha and her brother, Austin, the only witnesses.

As the media storm builds and the opening night draws closer, the cast find it harder and harder to separate themselves from the characters.

As the truth of Cillian’s fate becomes clear, Dara’s loyalty to her role will be irrevocably questioned as the terrible history starts to repeat itself…

Crime

The Dark by Sharon Bolton

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. So excited to see the return of Lacey Flint, one of my favourite detectives! Can’t wait to snuggle down with this one! 

The Blurb says: When a baby is snatched from its pram and cast into the river Thames, off-duty police officer Lacey Flint is there to prevent disaster. But who would want to hurt a child?

DCI Mark Joesbury has been expecting this. Monitoring a complex network of dark web sites, Joesbury and his team have spotted a new terrorist threat from the extremist, women-hating, group known as ‘incels’ or ‘involuntary celibates.’ Joesbury’s team are trying to infiltrate the ring of power at its core, but the dark web is built for anonymity, and the incel army is vast.

Pressure builds when the team learn the snatched child was just the first in a series of violent attacks designed to terrorise women. Worse, the leaders of the movement seem to have singled out Lacey as the embodiment of everything they hate, placing her in terrible danger…

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Vintage Crime Short Stories

The Edinburgh Mystery and Other Tales of Scottish Crime edited by Martin Edwards

Courtesy of the British Library. Isn’t it nice of Martin Edwards to put together an anthology of Scottish stories just for me? 😉 I thought the BL had dumped me since it’s been a while since I received a parcel from them, so I was doubly delighted when this one popped through the letter-box!

The Blurb says: From the dramatic Highlands to bustling cities and remote islands in wild seas, the unique landscapes and locales of Scotland have enthralled and shaped generations of mystery writers. This new collection presents seventeen classic stories, spanning a period from the 1880s to the 1970s, by a host of Scottish authors alongside writers from south of the border inspired by the history and majesty of the storied country.

Featuring vintage tales by Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Baroness Orczy together with mid-twentieth-century mini-masterpieces by Margot Bennett, Michael Innes and Cyril Hare, this anthology also includes a rare Josephine Tey short story, reprinted for the first time since 1930.

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Maigret on Audio

The Flemish House by Georges Simenon read by Gareth Armstrong

For some reason the Maigret novels seem to me to work particularly well as audiobooks, perhaps because of the short length, and certainly because of the excellent narrations by Gareth Armstrong. I pick them up randomly when they turn up in Audible sales, so there’s no logic to my reading order. This is no. 14 in the series according to Audible, no. 15 according to Goodreads. Take your pick! #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer

The Blurb says: A new translation, by David Bellos, of this chilling novel, set on the Belgian border.

“She wasn’t an ordinary supplicant. She didn’t lower her eyes. There was nothing humble about her bearing. She spoke frankly, looking straight ahead, as if to claim what was rightfully hers. ‘If you don’t agree to look at our case, my parents and I will be lost, and it will be the most hateful legal error….'”

Maigret is asked to the windswept, rainy border town of Givet by a young woman desperate to clear her family of murder. But their well-kept shop, the sleepy community, and its raging river all hide their own mysteries. 

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Shardlake on Audio

Heartstone by CJ Sansom read by Steven Crossley

An extra one this week to kick off #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer. This is the longest one on my list so I’ll get it out of the way while my enthusiasm is high(ish)! A re-read of a favourite, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Steven Crossley’s narrations of this series so far…

The Blurb says: Summer, 1545. England is at war, and Matthew Shardlake is about to encounter the most politically dangerous case of his career. While a massive French fleet prepares to attack, every able-bodied man is being pressed into military service. Meanwhile, an old servant of Queen Catherine Parr asks Shardlake to investigate claims of “monstrous wrongs” committed against a young ward of the court. Shardlake’s inquiries take him and his loyal assistant, Jack Barak, to Hoyland Priory and Portsmouth, where the English fleet is gathering. There they uncover a startling link between the ward and a woman incarcerated in Bedlam. With a fantastic backdrop of wartime intrigue and a dramatic finale onboard one of Henry VIII’s great warships, Heartstone is certain to catapult this internationally bestselling series to greater prominence.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, NetGalley UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?