WHILE today’s fiction appears to be fraught with futuristic fantasies no one can deny that novels set in a by-gone era can be every bit equally exciting. CJ Sansom’s Heartstone is an example of one such book.
Heartstone is the fifth novel in the Shardlake series. And like predecessors it has been developed in the backdrop 16th century England. The work follows the tale of lawyer-protagonist Matthew Shardlake. When a London based tutor, Michael Calfhill commits suicide his mother goes to Queen Catherine Parr as an old servant and begs for justice for her son’s memory. The case is handed over to Matthew by the Queen and he is asked to look into claims of “monstrous wrongs” done to a Hugh Curteys under the wardship of a Sir Nicholas Hobbey. This forces Matthew to journey to Portsmouth and he decides to engage in a little side project of looking into the shrouded past of Ellen Fettiplace, a women held in Bedlam under the pretext of madness. What Matthew doesn’t realise is that as he nears the truth of the two cases he puts his life at risk. And as if there were a lack of chaos in Matthew’s life, as he sets out, France sends her forces to invade England and the first strike may hit Matthew head on.
The fictitious characters aside, Sansom’s works serve to entertain and enlighten. Many of the events described in the Shardlake series are true recollections, or at least inspired by historic facts. There is no discrepancy in the timeline and even the speech has been rendered in a 16th century fashion. The book is the fruit of a thorough research and it shows. At the end short notes on history have been supplied and trust us – it won’t bore you to sleep.
Heartstone is definitely a crime story and a thriller, and it pulls off both with aplomb, though some may be put off by its sheer volume. Heartstone is a novel that will catch your imagination and even hold it for hours after you turn over the last page. The punch it packs is real woozy. Plus, the ending notes help you impress your friends by passing off as a scholar. So even if you are not a fan of the Victorian age Heartstone is definitely worth a read.
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