Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review: Dark Fire

As I've probably said before, I'm hooked on the Shardlake series of murder mystery intrigue set during the reign of King Henry VIII. Dark Fire is the second novel in the series by CJ Sansom, this time set entirely in reforming London while Lord Cromwell is in trouble during the last days of Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves while courting Catherine Howard.

While involved in a murder trial, Matthew Shardlake is caught up in the business of state again by Thomas Cromwell, who sends him careering through the mucky, filthy, smelly streets of London town as a shadowy consortium have offered Greek Fire (a high powered liquid explosive of Byzantine origin) to Cromwell. Yet in the days before a demonstration of the Greek Fire, those involved in the manufacture of the substance begin to be murdered. Shardlake and his new assistant Jack Barak need all their wits as they chase the killers who are always one step ahead, while mixing with high society types and the political elite.

The murder mystery itself makes the book worth reading, and the pages are quickly turned as you rush to find what happens next. But perhaps the most special quality of the book is to authentically bring alive the streets of olde London. I always love visiting London, but Sansom describes just what it would have been like 500 years ago, the sights (including a high wooden steeple on the then St Paul's - before the Great Fire of London, you remember), the entertainments, the squalor, and the opinions of the ordinary people as the politics of the reformation were played out on the national and international stages.

There are some philosophical moments as the characters discuss the purpose or meaninglessness of life - one asks 'What do our lives matter? What are any of us but pawns in the schemes of the great?' (Have things changed as we look at the dealing and discussions trying to form a coalition government at the minute?)

There was just one mistake which I noticed - on page 198 Shardlake arrives at Guy's and he 'opened the satchel and laid the alchemical books on the table.' Just two pages later in the same scene, we're told that he 'took the alchemy books from my satchel and laid them on the table.' A minor oversight, but not one to be troubled over!

If you're into history, politics, religion, intrigue or murder mystery, then have a go at reading CJ Sansom and his Shardlake series. you will thoroughly enjoy them, just as much as I do!

No comments:

Post a Comment