Author and Genre
C J Sansom is the author of historical crime fiction novels. That sounds like a mouthful, but it’s a brilliant concept.
Lamentation is the newest installment in the highly acclaimed Shardlake series. The series focuses on an English lawyer named Shardlake who searches out the answers to mysteries and crimes in Tudor England.
Shardlake is the protagonist. He is a very engaging character for the simple reason that he is rather ordinary. The hero is a poor fighter, not exceptionally intelligent (not a fool by a long way but not a genius either) and his looks have never been given much attention.
But Shardlake has that everyman quality which allows a wide range of readers to engage with the plot as he moves through it. I would say that his greatest trait, and the author highlights this on several occasions, is that he doggedly pursues the truth in spite of the obstacles thrown in his path.
As well as numerous high-profile characters from Tudor politics each of whom C J Samson portrays vividly and believably (they were only human after all), there are also some “ordinary” characters whose presence is essential to the plot.
Barak is as ever Shardlake’s loyal assistant. But we are given a fresh perspective on this old rogue in the latest novel in the series. He is a family man now, married with a young child. This throws a spanner in the works in terms of the dynamic between Shardlake and Barak within the plot, but the narrative thrives on this rather than letting it dull the story.
Nicholas is another important character. He is a brash, self-centered youth from a gentrified background. Or at least that is how Shardlake views him at the novel’s opening. As Lamentation continues, C J Samson winds aspects of Nicholas’ story around the plot and allows us to see how there is more to his character than meets the surface.
Finaly, there are Shardlake’s household servants. This is almost like a second plot within the greater mystery narrative of the novel. Sharlake’s home is painted almost as a royal court by the author, with smaller mysteries, intrigues and crimes going on beneath his own roof.
Arguably, this is the most important aspect of the novel (or any novel) and sadly it is not all good news.
The mystery / crime narrative which unfolds is, as ever with C J Samson, cunningly thought out and very well-executed. I was completely at a loss for the solution right up until the great reveal towards the novel’s end. The author has the ability to keep both Shardlake and the reader guessing, giving away small clues here and there to keep us hooked.
But that is also the problem in a way. The pace seemed to me to be extraordinarily slow, even for a 700+ pager. This could just be my personal tastes coming through. If so, don’t hesitate to comment and let me know. I found that I was really struggling in some places to keep up the motivation to read on when the facts of the case were being summarized for the second or third time.
Should You Read It?
If you are already a Shardlake fan then you should certainly read Lamentation. The character development and mystery-weaving are brilliant as ever. However, considering what I have just mentioned, if you haven’t read Shardlake before you should start with the first in the series: Dissolution.
I know that sounds obvious but I’ve started a series in the middle / end before and if you want to read C J Samson and his Shardlake at their best, start with Dissolution and work your way forward.
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