Venue: Crowd of Favours
It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church and the country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. Under the order of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent through the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: the monasteries are to be dissolved.
But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege – a black cockerel sacrificed on the altar, and the disappearance of Scarnsea’s Great Relic.
Dr Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to investigate. But Shardlake’s investigation soon forces him to question everything he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes . . .
This was one of those random picks where some of us got to read a book that has been sat on the shelf for a long time. It was my pick and I wanted to read something along the lines of a previous pick ‘The Name of the Rose’ but without all the latin and for the most part we enjoyed it with praise for the religious debates contained within the story.
After several other books such as Wolf Hall which present different perspectives on Cromwell we found it interesting to see a book written with the common viewpoint of Cromwell in mind – a man responsible for the sacking of Catholic churches.
We found the book to be set just past medieval times – which seems to be a favourite period amongst the Outlaws – but still at a time when history was interesting and as one reader said ‘before history got modern and boring’. Set around the time of Anne Boleyns death; we enjoyed Sansom’s depictions of myths and conspiracies as to why she was beheaded.
It was also a dangerous time and we had a good chat about those in the Kings favour who were often in fear of his mood swings resulting in the loss of their heads. How often people were afraid to speak up especially if they disagreed with the Kings opinions such as with religion. Church was a huge part of people’s lives and we discussed how people would be fearful of having opinions as that could also lead to the loss of one’s head.
We discussed the tradition of patronage and the blossoming egalitarian reformists and how despite reform and our protagonist had been such a person, how he still believed in patronage with his assistant Mark; brought to London after growing up on his father’s farm.
As the crime was set in a monastery we talked about dodgy priests, with one reader commentating that some of the best forgers were from medieval times. This was something from the book, where several priests wrote false land documents.
We discussed which point in the book everyone figured out whodunnit with a varying degree of answers from midway discussions on the constant talk of marshes and a point where it was mentioned several times how heavy certain boxes were by people who shouldn’t be moving said boxes! (spoiler free sentence!). There were far too many co-incidences in the story such as the commissioner at the monastery also being the one to investigate the alleged lover of Anne Boleyn.
We had a little chat about assistant Mark – a man so in love he was prepared to overlook the fact his girlfriend was a murderess who chopped off people’s heads. I have a comment – must be the tight trousers – which I think was to do with Marks constant habit of getting into trouble with women.
With Shardlake himself we liked how he was a flawed individual, weary of the reform he had helped to move forward and prone to tantrums, such as when he lost the girl (Rose) to Mark.We liked the fact that it made him more human-like. Also his hunchback made him an outsider, like the monks helping him to form strong relationships on the way to solving the crimes.
Lots of red herrings in the book which made it enjoyable and we decided it had an air of Agatha Christie about it. We loved the way the story was constructed and the way it was set – descriptions of the journey, the smells of London and so on. It was very easy to visualise the times.
This months tangents (not many this month):
- Henry VIII wives
- How medieval crime solving would have been so much easier if they had mobile phones rather than having to travel by horse a hundred miles to pass a message on.
- The church of Spain claiming to have the head of John the Baptist as a boy. Then whose head did he have as an adult????