New York Times Review
Lady Elizabeth, Shardlake's royal patron and the future queen, sends him to Norwich to investigate a delicate matter: A distant relative named Edith Boleyn has been murdered in a very obscene fashion and her husband is expected to hang for the crime. "The family name, the foul details of the crime - the pamphleteers will have the time of their lives," predicts a member of the court. Shardlake's orders are to ensure that justice is done. And if it isn't, he has Elizabeth's royal pardon in his pocket. Shardlake participates in a tense murder trial and visits a hellish prison where the condemned await execution - by hanging if they're lucky, by bloodier methods if they're not. And then he lingers in the countryside, struck by the rumbling unrest between displaced peasants and greedy landowners grabbing tracts of common land. Šansom describes 16th-century events in the crisply realistic style of someone watching them transpire right outside his window. He takes a good bit of his plot from the historical peasants' rebellion led by Robert Kett, who appears here as a roguishly romantic hero. The descriptions of Kett's great camp on Mousehold Heath are so vivid you can almost smell the sheep being roasted to feed the thousands of farmers and laborers who make up the rebel army. The historical detail is impressive, but what we remember best are the violent scenes of rioting farmers tearing down the loathed enclosures and the ugly glimpses of women and children being turned out of their homes. Don't believe those tapestries of pretty lords and ladies happily hunting unicorns: The Middle Ages were murder. An autumnal air of melancholy seems to hang over Charles Todd's elegant police procedurals featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard. As THE BLACK ASCOT (Morrow, $26.99) begins, Edward VII has just died and the fashionable socialites attending the 1910 Ascot races are shrouded in mourning. Alan Barrington uses the occasion to arrange a fatal motorcar accident for the man who drove his best friend to commit suicide, or so he believes. Barrington then disappears for nearly 10 years. When he finally resurfaces, Rutledge is sent to discreetly track him down. This reflective series always seems eager to get Todd's sensitive detective out of London and into the English countryside, where the reverberations of World War I are still being felt. In Merwyn, "a gray, bleak village" of lost souls, he finds a wife who thought she was a war widow and her veteran husband, who feels he might as well be dead. And in Hampshire, Rutledge visits a clinic where, staring at shellshocked victims, he sees his own traumatized face. By now I should know better than to continue reading a novel that opens with a telephone call in the middle of the night. It's usually a tipoff that the dialogue is going to be dreary. ("Hello.... Who is this? ... Hello. Hello.... Who is this?") Fiona Barton has written better books than the suspect (Berkley, $26), and I expect to read more of them in the future. But this one recycles familiar themes and old plot points. Kate Waters, a British journalist with amazing survival skills in a weakened industry, takes an assignment involving two teenage girls who have gone missing in Thailand. Since her own son, Jake, is roaming the world and rarely calls home, this case is bound to be a heartbreaker for her and a strain for any reader who doesn't want to plow through another weepy story about suffering mothers and their callous children. But it's my own fault. After all, I caught that middle-of-the-night phone call and I didn't hang up. Here's one for the Shooting Yourself in the Foot Department: THE MURDER PIT (Mira, paper, $15.99), a Victorian potboiler by Mick Finlay, who had the very good idea of spoofing Sherlock Holmes by creating a private investigator who is his exact opposite. Unlike that famed cerebral sleuth, William Arrowood is the detective of last resort, relying on instinct, impulse and sudden brainstorms to resolve distasteful cases for unsavory clients. Norman Barnett, Arrowood's faithful assistant and the narrator of this story, doesn't waste his breath describing bucolic country scenes. And if he and Arrowood should leave London, they're more likely to visit a working farm "with its attack dogs, its slaughter shed, its mountains of stinking dung." Arrowood shows real skill in dealing with the case of Birdie Barclay, who hasn't been heard from since she left home to marry a pig farmer. But Finlay has no sense of proportion. It's not enough that his hero is rude, crude and lacking in social skills. His personal hygiene is so appalling he's unable to eat or drink without soiling himself, so he pretty much smells like a barnyard. Here, have a napkin! MARILYN STASIO has covered crime fiction for the Book Review since 1988. Her column appears twice a month.
Publishers Weekly Review
Set in 1549 England, Sansom's outstanding seventh novel featuring lawyer Matthew Shardlake (after 2015's Lamentation) finds Shardlake working for Thomas Parry, the comptroller in charge of the household finances for the future Elizabeth I. Parry summons Shardlake to undertake a highly sensitive investigation. A woman has shown up at Lady Elizabeth's Norfolk residence, claiming to be Edith Boleyn, the widow of John, a distant relative of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth's mother. Edith said she had just been dispossessed of her property, but Parry, who grew increasingly suspicious of her bona fides, turned her away. Eleven days later, a shepherd found the woman's naked corpse in a stream, her head bashed in. The shepherd was employed by a landowner engaged in a bitter territory dispute with the very much alive John Boleyn. John's muddy shoes matched footprints near the grim discovery, and a hammer with traces of blood and hair was found in his stables. Elizabeth herself requests that Shardlake look into the crime. Shardlake's search for the truth behind the murder coincides with the massive peasant uprising known as Kett's Rebellion. Non-mystery readers interested in Tudor England will be equally enthralled. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.