Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

Genre: Historical Fiction; Historical Mystery; Mystery

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Series: Dissolution; Dark Fire; Sovereign; Revelation

How I acquired this book: I purchased it.

Book Blurb: It is 1540 and the hottest summer of the sixteenth century. Matthew Shardlake, believing himself out of favour with Thomas Cromwell, is busy trying to maintain his legal practice and keep a low profile. But his involvement with a murder case, defending a girl accused of brutally murdering her young cousin, brings him once again into contact with the king-s chief minister - and a new assignment . . .

The secret of Greek Fire, the legendary substance with which the Byzantines destroyed the Arab navies, has been lost for centuries. Now an official of the Court of Augmentations has discovered the formula in the library of a dissolved London monastery. When Shardlake is sent to recover it, he finds the official and his alchemist brother brutally murdered - the formula has disappeared.

Now Shardlake must follow the trail of Greek Fire across Tudor London, while trying at the same time to prove his young client's innocence. But very soon he discovers nothing is as it seems . .

My Review: Dark Fire is even more enjoyable than Dissolution, the first Matthew Shardlake mystery. That's thanks to Jack Barak, an uncouth rogue who becomes Shardlake's new assistant by Cromwell's order.

Jack's a patralineal descendant of converso Jews. Unlike Matthew, who's in the midst of an existential crisis, he doesn't worry his head with questions about the nature of the Divine or the problems of Reform. And unlike Guy, the Moorish ex-monk, he's not a man of strong faith. In fact, Jack seems to care little about Christianity (his titular religion) and knows next to nothing about Judaism. He even calls the empty mezuzah his father passed down to him a 'mezza' until Guy corrects him! Yet he's fiercely attached to his Jewish heritage. More power to him, especially as he's not fool enough to advertise that attachment in Tudor England.

There are two mysteries to untangle here; both are more interesting for the interactions between Matthew, Jack and Guy than for the mysteries themselves. Meanwhile, Sansom's recreation of Tudor England and historic characters like Thomas Cromwell continues to dazzle. And there's plenty of tension where Cromwell's concerned--even if the reader is familiar with the man's fate.

I wasn't crazy about some of the action scenes and improbable escapes, but that's a minor complaint. I'm going to keep devouring this series, cheesy escapes and all!

On Kindle: Yes. Find it at Amazon here.

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