Day 1117: Heartstone

Cover for HeartstoneI’ve been slowly making my way through C. J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series just to read Heartstone, which is on my Walter Scott prize list. Although I enjoy the period and Sansom’s thorough research, I will have to consider whether I want to follow the depressive Shardlake’s adventures further.

In Heartstone, Shardlake is summoned by the queen, who by now is Catherine Parr. She asks Matthew to investigate an allegation related to the Court of Wards and Augmentations, which is notoriously corrupt.

Michael Calfhill was employed as tutor to Hugh and Emma Curteys until their parents died. Their wardship was sold to Nicholas Hobbey, their neighbor, even as Michael and the vicar were trying to track down an aunt to take charge of them. Emma died from smallpox and Michael was dismissed, but he worried about Hugh. So, a few weeks ago, he went to visit him unannounced. He returned distraught, claiming he had found out something frightful and wanting a lawyer to sue to remove the wardship from Hobbey. But a few weeks later, he was dead of an apparent suicide. Bess Calfhill, his mother, was once servant to the queen and has gone to her for help.

Matthew is also interested in looking into another mystery. In the last book, he befriended Ellen Fettiplace, a resident of Bedlam. When he examines the records to see who is paying for her support, he learns that she was never committed there. Matthew has heard stories about Ellen that involve a rape and a fire. Since his business with Hobbey takes him near to her village, he decides to find out how she came to Bedlam.

This novel is set with the background of Henry VIII’s war with the French. Throughout the novel, the main characters encounter preparations for a French invasion, and Matthew’s investigations take him to Portsmouth just before the Battle of Solent.

I was easily able to guess the big secret in one case (although I’m not sure it was obvious), but I was mistaken about the other. Certainly, the mysteries are not the most important aspect of Sansom’s novels—they are just the force that drives it forward. Sansom has a talent for immersing readers in the period. Still, Matthew is lonely and sad, and his life seems to consist of one loss after another. In this novel, he decides to change his life, and I may read the next one just to see if he does. (I believe there is only one more.)

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4 thoughts on “Day 1117: Heartstone

  1. themisanthropologist August 16, 2017 / 3:35 am

    I started reading this recently, but stopped temporarily to finish other books I had already begun. I’ve read some of the books in the series already: Dissolution, and Revelation. I have all the books in the series except for Lamentation. I quite like the series…the plot is usually intriguing, and I like the characters. I usually go back to the series when I find myself in a reading rut and can’t decide what to read.

    • whatmeread August 16, 2017 / 10:29 am

      I have read all of them except the last one.

  2. Helen August 16, 2017 / 1:54 pm

    I haven’t read this one yet but am hoping to start it in the next few weeks. I’ve enjoyed the first four in the series so I’ll be interested to see what I think of this one. You’re making good progress with the Walter Scott Prize lists!

    • whatmeread August 17, 2017 / 11:01 am

      Yes, not as good with the Man Booker Prize project, though. I think I’m more reliably enjoying the Walter Scott books.

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