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July 15, 2008 / C.T. Henry

Author Profile: C.J. Sansom

C.J. Sansom was educated at Birmingham University, where he completed a BA and then a Ph.D. in history. After working a variety of jobs, he retrained as a solicitor and practiced in Sussex until becoming a full-time writer.

Drawing inspiration from Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, and John le Carré, Sansom writes captivating historical mysteries set in Tudor England. There are four novels in the Matthew Shardlake series: Dissolution (2003), Dark Fire (2005), Sovereign (2007), and Revelation (2008).  In addition, his love for the city of Madrid led him to write a stand-alone spy novel, Winter in Madrid in 2006.  The first three Matthew Shardlake books were nominated for Dagger Awards (Britain’s prestigious crime writing awards).  In 2005, Dark Fire won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger.

What makes his books so good?

Dissolution is the most atmospheric historical novel I’ve ever read.  Every time I opened the book, I was transported and immersed into Tudor England.  The sights, sounds, and smells just leap from Sansom’s pages. Another quality, which sets Sansom’s novels apart from the rest, is his use of the tension of the times.  His first novel takes place when Henry VIII orders the dissolution of the monasteries, the beginning of a very dark and contentious period in English history. Sansom exploits the tensions that arise between the bitterly divided Catholics and reforming Protestants.  Unlike many other historical fiction books that concentrate on the detail, Samson writes fluidly so that the reader is propelled through the story.   In spite of all this, the main strength of Sansom’s historical mysteries is the compelling protagonist, attorney Matthew Shardlake. As one of the most unconventional detectives in the crime fiction genre, Shardlake is a hunchback.  And yet, his physical deformity is not the only way that he is set apart from others around him.  In a time when most men are out to protect themselves, Shardlake is a man of conscience.  As readers, we are continually impressed with his sharp wit, but it is his private conflicts about faith, morality, and justice that truly make him an appealing character.

In addition, Sansom’s series also gives readers plenty of variety. Dissolution is a closed setting mystery, taking place in a monastery; Dark Fire is a quest; Sovereign is a political thriller set in York; and Revelation is a serial killer novel.

If you have any interest in historical mysteries, I highly recommend this series.  You won’t be disappointed.



Leave a Comment
  1. G. Bailey / Mar 26 2009 8:59 am

    Having read all four of the Mathew Shardlake books by C.J.Sansom I can only endorse all the comments made by the previous reader. I am now desperate for another Shardlake mystery.

  2. D. Calloway / Dec 6 2009 8:25 pm

    C.J. Sansom is the most engaging writer of mysteries I have found in a long time. His is not the “run-of-the-mill” storyline. Truly a master! I’ve read everything he has written, and waiting for more.

  3. Jan Warne / Jan 11 2011 5:46 am

    The latest Shardlake book is ‘Heartstone’, and I thoroughly recommend it! Did someone say that these books are being made into a series/film? I hope the British do this, with some of their great actors, although I must say, as an Australian, Geoffrey Rush would make a great Shardlake….check him out in the Elizabeth the First films with Kate Blanchett!! Sansom’s writing is very filmic,and one comes to realise how desperately dangerous the times of Henry V111 were….and I have no respect for the rampaging, pillaging of the so-called ‘nobles’on the poor.
    I am hoping that Sansom continues his Shardlake books….in ‘Heartstone’, we meet the child, Elizabeth,who displays intelligence in her questions of Shardlake. He would be a wonderful adviser to her, once she became Queen! (Geoffrey Rush, again!!)

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