It is important to start every adventure as you mean to go on. So, having carefully created my list of 250 books to read this year, I have, of course, begun by reading a book that wasn’t on the list. In my defense, Lamentation was dropped into my lap by chance over Christmas and, as a longstanding fan of the Shardlake series, I was powerless to resist.
Set in the reign of King Henry VIII, Shardlake is a lawyer who is invariably drawn into being more of a private investigator for his employers. In previous books in the series, he has been working for Thomas Cromwell or Archbishop Cranmer, but Lamentation sees him getting into hot water on behalf of the last of Henry VIII’s wives, Catherine Parr.
Shardlake is an interesting hero. He is described as a hunchback which, in previous books, clearly makes him feel like an outsider to society – perfect for a detective who needs to observe through clear eyes. It makes many people underestimate him, in earlier books we see him struggling to be taken seriously, and it also means that he can’t take an approach to danger based purely on bravado (although there is still enough sword-fighting in Lamentation to keep the most bloodthirsty reader entertained).
What is nice about Lamentation is that you can see that Shardlake has become more at ease with himself as he has aged. He has won the respect of many, and the enmity of some, but he is an established person. We see him as an older man with responsibilities to those around him, and a substantial part of the book is around where his responsibilities lie: to Queen Catherine who he has promised to serve, and for whom he has a more than passing affection, or to his employees who he feels he need to protect.
The plot of Lamentation is a cracker. It twists and turns through all levels of society introducing us to everything from secretive Anabaptists cells to murderous footpads to the King’s Privy Council via Hampton Court, the Tower of London and the burning of heretics, it kept me guessing right to the end.
The book gives a great overview of the religious debate of the time. The naivety of young Nick is a great foil for Shardlake explaining some of the nuances of the different religious beliefs at the time, but I thought the way the books plays out the ability of religious differences to insinuate themselves between even such good friends as Shardlake has the doctor Guy really brought to life the challenges of surviving Henry’s reign.
It isn’t a short book, by any means, but it is well worth the time. It is high energy, full of action and will keep you guessing. I can’t wait for the next story to come out.
Lamentation, C.J. Sansom, Mantle, 2014