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 .....
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 his young ward, Hugh Curteys, by Sir Nicholas Hobbey, Shardlake and his assistant Barak journey to Portsmouth. There, Shardlake also intends to investigate the mysterious past of Ellen Fettiplace, a young woman incarcerated in the Bedlam.
Once in Portsmouth, Shardlake and Barak find themselves in a city preparing for war. The mysteries surrounding the Hobbey family, and the events that destroyed Ellen's family nineteen years before, involve Shardlake in reunions both with an old friend and an old enemy close to the throne. Soon events will converge on board one of the King's great warships gathered in Portsmouth harbour, waiting to sail out and confront the approaching French fleet .....
..... Outer back cover.
FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): The churchyard was peaceful in the summer afternoon.
MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 206) "God made the forests and game to serve man, sir, not to be fenced in for the sport of those who have full bellies!"
MY THOUGHTS: A HUGE of the Matthew Shardlake series of books. This, the 5th instalment, is my favourite yet, the author (C.J. Sansom) rapidly catching up with Phiippa Gregory as one of my favourite writers of historical fiction. Not that you can compare the two of course as Gregory's writing generally features well known faces (Queens in particular) from the past whereas, though Sansom might feature actual historical events, his characters are, on the whole, totally fictitious.
At over 600 pages long Heartstone is quite an epic novel and yet such is the quality of the storytelling, the plot, the characters that it is all too soon read.
A great 'detective' story as well as historical fiction, the plot set during the last few years of Henry VIII reign moves along nicely but as always it is the characters that make such memorable reading. Richie Rich as the villain of the piece is second to none and makes for such wonderful reading.
But it is Shardlake himself that makes the books. Hunchback lawyer and therefore, as some would have it, harbinger of bad luck, though he is a somewhat marginalised member of society himself, he is such a strong character, a protector of truth and justice, the very fact that we occasionally see glimpses of his vulnerable side making him such a wonderfully human and well-rounded character.
My only real criticism, if you can call it that, being that whilst we did get to see plenty of Barak and learnt the history of Ellen's incarceration in the Bedlam we didn't get to see as much as Guy the Moorish physician as I would have liked.
Best read after having read the previous books (Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign and, Revelation), I highly recommend Heartstone to all fans of historical mysteries.
KEEP IT OR NOT?: Bought with a voucher received on my birthday, this is without doubt one for the shelves.