The year is 1545 and King Henry VIII has declared war on the French. However, things do not go well when Henry VIII’s invasion of France is an epic failure and the French decide to retaliate by sending a mighty fleet to invade England. Catherine Parr is on a mission of her own and enlists the help of Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak to investigate the wardship of Hugh Curtey, who is under the protection of Sir Nicholas Hobbey. Of course, Shardlake never makes anything easy for himself and he takes another case of Ellen Fettiplace, a woman he met while at Bedlam. With the prospect of a French invasion looming over their head, can Shardlake and Barak solve both cases before the French and the English can start fighting? This is the scenario of C.J. Sansom’s fifth Shardlake mystery, “Heartstone”.
Unlike the fourth book, I did not know what the title of this book was referring to so I was going into this one blind, which I love. All I knew was that it involved Shardlake and Barak, so I had to jump in. I don’t usually fangirl over historical fiction characters, but Sansom has made me love the escapades of Shardlake and Barak.
We dive into this particular novel with a rather happy, yet stressful time for Barak and his wife Tamasin. They are expecting their second child any day now, which after the events of “Revelation” you are rooting for them. Of course, being Barak, he causes a bit of trouble with a military officer and finds himself in a bind. Luckily, it is at this time that Matthew gets a case from his new patron, Catherine Parr, and he desperately needs Barak’s help. The case involves a ward named Hugh Curtey and his estates possibly being mismanaged by his protector Sir Nicholas Hobbey. Matthew takes this case and decides that while he is in the area, he will explore the mysterious back story of a woman who he befriended while working at Bedlam a few years ago, Ellen Fettiplace.
These two cases seem like they could not be more different, however, they push Shardlake and Barak on a collision course with Shardlake’s arch-nemesis, Sir Richard Rich. I did not like Richard Rich in the previous novels, but the way Sansom portrayed him in this one made my skin crawl and now I loath him. His actions and the actions of others involved in both cases lead to Shardlake and Barak becoming mixed in the middle of the battle between the French and the English. The way that Sansom times the cases to coincide with the sinking of The Mary Rose is nothing short of brilliant.
If I did have a concern about this novel, I would say that the pacing in the middle was a bit slower than what I was anticipating. That is not to say that it distracted me, but it kept me guessing what Sansom had in store for Shardlake and Barak. I have become attached to these characters and every time they are put in mortal danger, I hope that they do not die.
Sansom can blend the two cases with military movements and the French invasion to heighten the danger and intrigue. Just when I think Sansom cannot do anything to love his bold and daring characters, he writes this novel. I am excited to see what kind of dangerous mission Shardlake and Barak will take on next, but I know that it means that I will have to say goodbye to these characters sooner, and I am not ready to be done with the Shardlake mysteries and these wonderful characters just yet. If you are like me and are addicted to the Shardlake mysteries, you need to read, “Heartstone” by C.J. Sansom.