Matthew Shardlake has been asked to defend a young woman accused of the terrible murder of a child. The problem is that the girl refuses to speak in her own defense and time is running out. Luckily, Thomas Cromwell intervenes and gains Shardlake two more weeks to prepare a defense. In exchange, Matthew must find the secret to the recently rediscovered Greek Fire, a technology that promises to place England firmly in control of her own destiny.
For me, this was really as enjoyable a read as Dissolution. Shardlake is perhaps even more full of melancholy, doubt, and loneliness, but he hasn't quite lost his faith in either God or humanity. He sees innocence in the eyes of the accused murderess and sets out to prove it, despite the unpopularity of her case. She has already been tried and hanged in the court of public opinion, but Shardlake desperately wants to see justice done.
The one weakness for me was in the two plotlines. This could easily have been two separate books, but instead one book had the two stories jammed together. The deadline given for both adds to the urgency of the story, but that felt a bit like an artificial device added by the author for that very reason.
Overall, though, Sansom has created a great character in Matthew Shardlake and surrounded him with a few other characters that are more complex than meets the eye. Jack Barak is introduced in this book, and at first he appears to be a beautiful bully, but he quickly shows that he is much more than that.
In reading the author's notes at the end, it sounds like he has stayed as true to the period and history as possible. At the same time, he has taken something that was a bit of a mystery already and had fun with it. Something along the lines of, "Well, I know this didn't really cause that, but wouldn't it be interesting if it did?"
I would recommend this to readers who like their mysteries with a bit of history thrown in, or vice versa. This was a highly entertaining read and I look forward to reading the next in the series.
Reviewed March 14, 2009
Find author C. J. Sansom on his website.
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Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!
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