The year is 1543 and King Henry VIII is looking for his sixth and final wife; the recent widowed Catherine Parr has caught his eye. It is her reformist values that make her a valuable asset for Archbishop Cranmer and his faction at court, and a target for others. A friend of Matthew Shardlake is viciously murdered, leading to a horrific discovery of a killer is on the loose. On top of that, Shardlake must defend a young man who has been placed in the Bedlam insane asylum for his radical beliefs. It is up to Shardlake and his intrepid assistant Barak, along with the former monk turned physician Guy Malton, to solve both cases before anyone else becomes the next victim. This is the world that readers are plunged to in the next book in C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series, “Revelation”.
I will be honest. When I saw that this book was dealing with elements of the book of Revelation, I was a bit nervous. I thought it was going to be extremely dark and so apocalyptic that I would not enjoy it. However, Sansom proved that he could make a thriller and still keep the characters that I have come to love and enjoy just as engaging and real to me as they have been in the previous novels. You can never judge a novel by its title, you have to read the book to understand the author’s motive behind their title choice.
We are thrown into the next installment of this engrossing series with Shardlake attending a dinner party hosted by his old friend Roger. Sansom paints this simple and honest friendship between the two men, which is tragically cut short when Roger is found horrifically murdered. After meeting with Archbishop Cranmer and other prominent men, including the Seymour brothers Thomas and Edward, Shardlake soon realizes that this was not a random act of violence, but a stage act by a deranged serial killer who based his murders off of the book of Revelation from the Bible. The additional characters of Thomas Seymour, Archbishop Cranmer, and Catherine Parr adds a sense that these events could have happened. The meticulous details of each murder intensify the experience for the reader and make you wonder if they will ever catch the fiend.
Another element of this novel is Shardlake’s interaction with his client Adam Kite who is a patient at the Bedlam insane asylum. Although we do not know what these kind of facilities were like during the Tudor times, Sansom’s descriptions of mental illness and how people were treated is so believable that you forget that it is fiction. The way that Sansom blends religious radicalism, politics, mental illness, innovations in science, and murder in this novel is nothing short of ingenious. That is Sansom’s true strength as an author. He can create such a believable Tudor world that you never want to leave. There were points in this novel where I questioned whether Shardlake, Barak, and Guy would survive this entire ordeal. Sansom kept me on the edge of my seat throughout this entire novel.
I know that I say this about every Shardlake novel so far, but this one was brilliant. The character development was astonishing and at times, heart-aching as you see your favorite characters struggle to survive. The murders and the details were so vivid that it felt real, which is all due to Sansom’s captivating writing style. I may have questioned the title of this particular novel and whether or not I would personally enjoy it, but once I entered Shardlake’s Tudor world for the fourth time, I was spellbound. If you want a Tudor murder thriller that will keep you guessing until the bitter end, or if you have read the earlier books of the Shardlake series, the fourth installment of C.J. Sansom’s riveting series, “Revelation” is a must-read.