Sansom follows the further adventures of Matthew Shardlake, Serjeant at Law (Heartstone, 2011, etc.), as the good lawyer is summoned by Queen Catherine during the last days of Henry VIII’s reign.
Amid "ancient monasteries destroyed, monks pensioned off...persecutions and burnings," Henry ripped the English church from Rome. In 1546, "Royal Supremacy" rules, but struggles remain in the king’s court: Conservatives "would keep the Mass"; reformists "would end what Catholic ceremonies remain"; and among the people, secret Anabaptists strive for a classless, communal society. Sansom fills his saga with historical personages, many of whom are zealots. Others—including Shardlake’s mortal enemy, Sir Richard Rich—follow royal tides. "The reformist group at court…is an alliance of family interests," and the queen is mired in the middle. Queen Catherine, whom Shardlake admires as "the most good and honorable lady I have ever met," has written Lamentation of a Sinner, a religious confession, which may cost her the king’s loyalty. The book has been stolen, and Shardlake is temporarily named to the Queen’s Learned Council and dispatched by her uncle, Lord Parr, to retrieve it. While coping with personal household duplicity and a fractious legal dispute over a will, Shardlake stumbles in to murders, conspiracies and more than one sword fight, all set against the panorama of brilliantly sketched 16th-century London. Despite warnings that "thunder circles around thrones," Shardlake is drawn into the "gilded sewer-pit" of Whitehall, where at last he’s brought to face the master manipulator, the dying Henry, "blue eyes…hard and savage." Shardlake survives only to be sent by the widowed queen to counsel the princess Elizabeth, a suggestion that another adventure awaits.
Shakespearean characterization and Byzantine plotting: Amid all the stink and muck of Tudor London, Sansom offers a master class in royal intrigue.