Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tudor London's lessons for today

While in France, I read the latest installment in C J Sansom's increasingly brilliant series of Tudor crime novels featuring the lawyer/sleuth Matthew Shardlake and his reliable assistant Jack Barak. Called Revelation, in many ways this is the best so far, not so much for the plot - which is a clever serial killer conceit - but for the creation of a compelling atmosphere of fear. Set in the days after Thomas Cronwell's fall, in the run up to Henry's last marriage to Catherine Parr, Sansom catches the ugly mood of uncertainty on London's streets.

The plot concerns a series of murders perpetrated to fulfil the seven vials prophecy in Revelation. All the victims were once gung-ho for reform and had cooled in their ardour. This allows Sansom to get under the skin of opinion in the early 1540s, a time when the first flush of reform in England was being rowed back by an increasingly conservative king and Privy Council led by London's Bishop Bonner and Winchester's Stephen Gardiner. A beleaguered Thomas Cranmer, still archbishop of Canterbury and enjoying Henry's love and support, is under attack from conservatives in and out of the court. London's streets are awash with suspicion and fear as reformers are increasingly arrested for holding views that only a few years previously were mainstream.

In the course of creating a totally believable Tudor London, Sansom throws sidelights on our own uncertain times, where different fundamentalisms - Christian, Islamic and secular - clash and create victims all round. The war on/of terror is nothing new - it was fought in Tudor London against different enemies and, then as now, pretty much the only victims were innocent folk from both sides.

It's a great and moving novel that left me wanting to read all four of them again. I can't wait for the next!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've just read it too, and like you was enthralled. It was an earlier blog of yours that put me onto Sansom, and I'm most grateful, all 4 are excellent books, and will be re-read. I too want more!