Gerald Sinstadt's Reviews > Dark Fire

Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom
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's review
Jan 01, 10

Read in July, 2009

Second novel syndrome is a fearful hurdle for an author; C J Sansom takes it in his stride. Dissolution, which first introduces Matthew Shardlake, was a clever and original detective story, hard though it was at times to distinguish one monk from another. Now, released from the claustrophobic Scarnsea monastery, the hunchback lawyer is called again to serve Richard Cromwell, this time in the dirty and dangerous lanes of 16th Century London and the no less treacherous English court.

Other reviewers here have disclosed enough of the plot to absolve me from covering that ground again. Suffice to say that its intertwined mysteries are neatly and tightly plotted. It is true that the final explanations do entail a degree of "Before I kill you, this is what needs to be told" but there are many similar precedents in this genre.

What is so admirable about Dark Fire is the authenticity of the detail and the skill with which it is woven into the narrative. The sights and smells of Tudor London are brilliantly evoked. The big underlying issues - justice, loyalty, weapons of mass destruction, race - are integral, not grafted on. And then there are the characters. Shardlake himself, a rounded and vulnerable human being, almost carried Dissolution single-handedly. Here he is engaged with a range of easily believable people: the weasly fellow lawyer, Bealknap; the dark-skinned apothecary, Guy; the haughty aristocrat, Lady Honor; above all Barak, Cromwell's Jewish ruffian whose assignment to be Shardlake's ambivalent partner teases and pleases throughout

I have already ordered Sovereign, looking forward to more of Matthew Shardlake and hoping that Barak may not be too far away.

C J Ransom's ambitious project, which began well, looks like becoming a triumph.
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