Solving Crimes and Smashing Monasteries

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

If you want a lovingly depicted evocation of the era during which Henry VIII was dissolving the monasteries and defying Rome and generally setting England on a course of confrontation with the forces of Roman Catholicism for generations to come, I can make no higher recommendation than Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall; this is a masterful literary introduction to the life and career of Thomas Cromwell, one of the great self-made men of the era. However, even making allowances for its status as the first book of a trilogy whose last part isn’t out yet, it kind of lacks closure – there isn’t really a natural conclusion to the novel, it just kind of ends suddenly.

Left wanting more Thomas Cromwell, I was drawn to the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom, in which a hunchbacked barrister from Tudor London solves murders under commission from a succession of historical figures – with his patron in the first two books being Cromwell himself. I have no idea whether splitting up the Shardlake series and grouping the novels by patron is an even vaguely sensible way to analyse the series, but it’s a convenient way to break it up for Reading Canary articles so hey, here’s a review of the two Cromwell-themed books in the series.

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