Monday, 5 May 2008

Dark Fire

When one's feeling under the weather, few things are more welcome than a totally tip-top book.

Over the last week or so I have been immersed in Henry VIII's London - its sights, sounds and pungent panorama of pongs. As Henry sought to settle the English reformation, the capital seethed with power struggles, intrigues and plots.

Spies everywhere and stray remark could take you on a fast ride to the rack, stake or gallows.

Scholarly, complex, crookbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake is Sansom's Morse - charged by the king's chief minister Thomas Cromwell to investigate the whereabouts of a top-secret Tudor WMD: 'Greek Fire', a kind of early napalm, to which, naturally enough, the king wishes to have exclusive rights.

Sansom deploys a rich array of characters with deft skill, interweaving an affecting second plot with that set in the public arena.

The narrative drive never slackens.

Terrific. And (hurrah!) there are three further books in the Shardlake series.

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