Lamentation is the sixth, and possibly last, novel in C.J. Sansom's Shardlake series of crime novels set during the reign of Henry VIII. Dark Fire, the second in the series, was previously reviewed here.

I enjoyed both Dissolution and Dark Fire, but Lamentation is in another league, managing to be both a stunning thriller and an historical tour de force.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and sometime investigator, is summoned by Queen Catherine Parr. Her manuscript of her very personal confession of her religious convictions has gone missing. As religious reformers and conservatives jostle for political ascendancy in the months leading up to the King's death, the making public of the Queen's preference for the reformist agenda could be explosive. Shardlake is asked to discretely try to recover the document, but as the body count rises Shardlake realises that this is going to be a much more complex and dangerous investigation than he had anticipated.

Sansom effortlessly brings the streets of Henry VIII's London and his crowded, magnificent, and sometimes bizarre court to life. Oddly, this novel reminded me less of the earlier Shardlake novels, and more of Sansom's Dominion, his unsettling pseudo-historical novel set in a 1950's Britain, a Britain which hadn't won the Second World War. In Dominion, Britain is a terrified country, controlled through the secret police, fear and repression. In many ways this is the country that he depicts in Lamentation, a country that has been bankrupted by war, whose streets are full of poverty. A country of vast disparity between rich and poor. It's also a country where people are fearful of speaking their minds, and a land that is in a state of flux as its long-term ruler, who has held the country together through a period of great change, is now coming towards the end of his life (in Dominion an increasingly sick and aging Hitler acts as the catalyst for change, as rival factions struggle for ascendancy).

Lamentation is set in a cold, terrifying country, where an idle comment can lead to a sickening death (the novel opens with the death of Anne Askew, which Sansom describes unflinchingly). There is however a great warmth to the novel as well. Matthew Shardlake is such a warm, likeable character, both in his love for his friends, and his loyalty to his beloved Queen, Catherine.

I do hope that this isn't the last time we see Matthew Shardlake. The novel ends with his call to the household of the Princess Elizabeth. Perhaps there is hope that either Shardlake, or his young lawyer associate, Nicholas Overton, will reappear at the court of the Tudor Queen.

Lamentation is the last in the series, but can easily be read out of sequence (as indeed I have done), it manages to be both a great thriller and an historical novel, with Sansom blending fact and fiction effortlessly. As though that isn't enough, he also manages to fit in a crime element too, which again works superbly. Well worth a read.


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