24 June 2011

Review: HEARTSTONE, C.J. Sansom - audio

Published in 2010
Audio version (abridged) published in 2010 by Pan Macmillan(available from Audible.com)
Running time: 7 hours
Narrator: Anton Lesser
Source: gift copy acquired at CrimeFest 2011

Publisher's summary  (from Audible)
Summer, 1545. England is at war. Henry VIII’s invasion of France has gone badly wrong, and a massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the Channel. As the English fleet gathers at Portsmouth, the country raises the largest militia army it has ever seen. The King has debased the currency to pay for the war, and England is in the grip of soaring inflation and economic crisis.

Meanwhile Matthew Shardlake is given an intriguing legal case by an old servant of Queen Catherine Parr. Asked to investigate claims of “monstrous wrongs” committed against a young ward of the court, which have already involved one mysterious death, Shardlake and his assistant Barak journey to Portsmouth.

Once arrived, Shardlake and Barak find themselves in a city preparing to become a war zone; and Shardlake takes the opportunity to also investigate the mysterious past of Ellen Fettipace, a young woman incarcerated in the Bedlam. The emerging mysteries around the young ward, and the events that destroyed Ellen’s family 19 years before, involve Shardlake in reunions both with an old friend and an old enemy close to the throne. Events will converge on board one of the King’s great warships, primed for battle in Portsmouth harbour....

My take

This is #5 in Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series. In 2009 I reviewed DISSOLUTION, the first in the series which I had actually read a year or two earlier. I've been meaning to read more in this series ever since. But I haven't and the fact that I have enjoyed reading this "out of order" is perhaps proof that you can dip into the series wherever you can. (Or perhaps I just don't know what I've been missing?)  I regret too that this review is of the abridged version of the novel, but you know what they say about gift horses.
HEARTSTONE has strengthened my resolve to read some of the intervening titles.

In DISSOLUTION Matthew Shardlake, a hunch-back lawyer, was doing the work of Thomas Cromwell. Eight years have passed and it is now 1545. Henry VIII has been through a few wives, and the current one is his last, Catherine Parr, who asks Shardlake to undertake an investigation for her.  She warns him however that when push comes to shove she may be unable to acknowledge that he is working for her. Thomas Cromwell is long gone and his successor Sir Richard Rich poses a great threat to Shardlake. Defending Shardlake in matters which interest Richard Rich may put the Queen in danger.

Narrator Anton Lesser does an excellent job in bring HEARTSTONE to life. His voice variations help the listener distinguish easily between characters.

While you "know" that this is historical fiction at the same time Sansom manages to embed historical details with great authenticity. I have a passing familiarity with this historical period and the details felt reliable. .

HEARTSTONE came a close second in the 2010 Ellis Peters Award for Historical Crime Fiction.

My rating: 4.7
Highly recommended

Check C.J. Sansom's own website

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