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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

Genre: Historical Mystery

The setting is London in the summer of 1540.  King Henry VIII is on the throne. He is displeased with his current wife, Anne of Cleves.  And he is displeased with with his adviser, Thomas Cromwell, who had encouraged the marriage.

Cromwell has learned that the secret for the ancient weapon, Greek fire, has been rediscovered.  To curry favor with the king, he has arranged a demonstration of the weapon's fearsome power.  Then, when the formula goes missing, Cromwell presses Matthew Shardlake into service.

Shardlake is a self described jobbing lawyer.  He and Cromwell have had dealings in the past.  To force Shardlake into helping him, Cromwell uses his political influence to aid Matthew with another case.

In that case, a young girl is accused of murdering her cousin.  She refuses to enter a plea.  The rule of law at the time demands that those who do not enter a plea must be pressed by heavy weights until they make a plea, or die.  The girl is determined to die rather than plead.  Cromwell's influence postpones the judgement of the court and forces Shardlake to investigate the mystery of the missing formula. 

Shardlake is also saddled with a young man in Cromwell's service, Jack Barak.

As Shardlake and Barak investigate, we get a picture of London in 1540: crowded, stinking, politically corrupt, and dangerous.  It is the time of the religious reformation.  Professing the wrong political beliefs or religious beliefs could cost a person his head.  The same is true of supporting the wrong adviser to the king.

I enjoyed this novel.  Matthew Shardlake is a likeable character.   He and Jack make an interesting investigative team.  I like novels like this that paint an accurate picture of what live was like in the past.

Dark Fire is the second novel in Sansom's Shardlake series.

The first novel of the series is Dissolution.

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