Try not to lose your head over this series

Murder, history, politics, religious reformation. Watching Queens come and go. Good Catholics  having their saints and idols removed from churches, their monasteries dissolved and monks thrown out into the streets. And all because your Monarch, who you are fast going off, wanted a divorce and it wasn’t granted by the Pope. Oh, and murders and the solving of them of course.

It’s all here in this fabulous series of chunky reads, The Shardlake series.

We join Matthew Shardlake, barrister at Lincolns Inn. It’s 1547. Henry VIII is on the throne and has, with the help of Thomas Cromwell his right hand man, divorced his first Queen and broken away from the Church of Rome.  Matthew is clever, honourable, reliable, a reformer… and a hunchback. Cromwell knows of Shardlake’s reputation as man who can be trusted with confidential matters and who doesn’t give up until he’s sorted it, and has approached Matthew to solve a murder in a monastery that is about to be dissolved. The King’s man has been killed and he wants to know who and why. The times are extremely tenuous; there are spies everywhere. No one is safe. Anyone outspoken on religious matters is likely to end up on the rack. Shardlake just wants a quiet life. Cromwell wants answers. So starts the first book Dissolution.

Cover of Sovereign

I’m not a big fan of mucked about history, so love the way C. J. Sansom weaves his stories around the events of the time. His descriptions of the filth in the streets, the fear of the common people, the conniving of wealthy families, both Protestants and Catholics, manoeuvring their daughters and nieces into the King’s circle in the hope that their family/beliefs will benefit, the buildings, the rubbish rotting on the banks of the Thames when the tide is out, the heads on spikes outside the Tower.  That’s not even accounting for the murders Shardlake and his assistant, Jack Barak, are called on to solve.

For Tudor history its hard to go past Hilary Mantel, author of  Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, who presents us a view from inside the Royal Court and the life of Thomas Cromwell, who started life as a blacksmith’s son and achieved greatness as Henry VIII’s Chancellor. Not forgetting Susanna Gregory who also writes historical mysteries with the protaganist of Matthew Bartholomew.

Having recently sung the praises of these books to my brother (he promptly read one after the other until there were no more) and to several library customers their  response was the same, “read that one, where’s the next?” The Shardlake covers are not enticing but don’t be put off. My colleague Roberta Smith is also a fan as you can see from her blog on Serial killers.

Do you like history? A good murder mystery? Being gripped by a good story? The Shardlake series could be to your taste, methinks.

Already a fan?  What is it that got you reading the series?

Find out more

 

Facebooks

Cover: Anne of Cleves
The discarded bride

In with a chance to become the fourth Queen of England, Anne of Cleves could have saved herself a whole heap of bother had Facebook  existed in her day.

For starters she could have cut out the middleman artist, posted her own selfie and just sat back and waited for King Henry VIII to take one of three possible actions: click like, make a comment such as “LOL”, or unfriend her on the spot (today’s equivalent of beheading).

But no, in the 16th century you had to go and get your portrait painted. Pity the poor artist, Hans Holbein the Younger, caught between his plain subject, an out of control King and a punishing time frame.

But Henry was quite taken with the portrait. It was Anne of Cleves herself whom he loathed on sight. Referring to her as ‘that Flanders mare’, he is reputed to have claimed she did not look English enough. And if you want to know what that means, read The English Face – which Oscar Wilde dismissed in just  four words (the face that is, not the book):

Once seen, never remembered

The Royal marriage was never consummated and was finally annulled. But the portrait lives on, as portraits tend to do.

Cover: A Face to the World
Your own self portrait may not look as good as this!

There is so much human drama in this little bit of history and whichever part of it piques your interest, the library has the book for you: books on portraits, King Henry VIII and social networking.

You may even be tempted to paint a self portrait. Be warned though that nothing will drive you to substance abuse faster than attempting to make a painting of  yourself, cutting as it does to the core of the disparity between how you think you look and what the rest of the world may actually be seeing.

But my absolute favourite book of faces is a book on moko tattoos called The Blue Privilege – The Last Tattooed Maori Women : Te Kuia Moko  by Harry Sangl. This art book is rare for me, in that I devoured all the paintings with my eyes and read every word with my heart. It truly is a taonga.

And were it ever to crop up on facebook, I’d go the whole hog: like, comment and share.