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S. J. Parris and Stephanie Merritt

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CJ Sansom: a bestselling mix of Tudor history and mystery

Sunday 26th October 2014

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Perhaps it’s the obvious parallels with our own age and its propaganda, power struggles and religious divisions, but our obsession with the political and sexual intrigues of the Tudor court shows no sign of abating. The past decade has brought a series of novels, biographies and documentaries, including Hilary Mantel’s two Booker-prizewinners about Thomas Cromwell and four seasons of Showtime’s bodice-ripping drama The Tudors.

Alongside all these, CJ Sansom’s Henrician crime series, featuring his hunchbacked lawyer-turned-detective Matthew Shardlake, has been quietly gaining critical acclaim and a loyal readership worldwide, such that sales now stand at some 3m copies. It’s a remarkable achievement for a series that has yet to enjoy the benefit of any big-name screen adaptation, and a testament to Sansom’s gift for matching a satisfying mystery plot with an enduringly sympathetic hero, backed up by a historian’s extensive and confident understanding of the period that confers authority on every passing description, whether of a privy council interrogation or an argument between women at a market stall.

Shardlake’s sixth adventure, Lamentation, set during the final turbulent year of Henry VIII’s reign, is already receiving enthusiastic reviews. He is an unlikely hero for a corrupt age, when those who desire advancement quickly learn to bend their principles and their beliefs to suit the prevailing wind, but it is precisely his solid decency and sense of honour that make him stand out in a world of flattery and hypocrisy...

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