1 May 2021 Susannah

Absorbed in C.J. Sansom

C.J. Sansom audio books narrated by Anton Lesser

I have written before in this newsletter about the ‘Shardlake’ novels of C.J. Sansom. The books are murder mysteries set in the time of King Henry VIII, in London, and they are quite simply, for me, the best mystery novels ever! I read the first one, Dissolution, after reading a review in a NZ magazine, The Listener, which warned that the novel was addictive. I was hooked, and I feel the books just get better and better as the series progresses. Superb historical and legal detail, memorable characters, and you honestly feel that you are there in Tudor London, smelling the smells, sharing the religious fears of those uncertain times, and experiencing everything the hero Matthew Shardlake undergoes.

As it is now some time since I read the earlier novels in the series, I decided to revisit them, this time via audio books. They are brilliantly read by actor Anton Lesser (if you watch Endeavour, he plays the head police officer) and I have been utterly absorbed all over again. Oh, what a joy to have such a good actor bringing the characters and scenes vividly alive for me! I just wanted to keep driving my car to Brisbane, so I could continue listening to these marvellous novels. I have now listened to the first 3 in the series – 4 still to go!

It was reported a few years ago that C.J. Sansom was very ill with cancer and that his 7th Shardlake book would be his last. I am unable to find any updates as to his condition, but am fervently hoping that such a wonderful man will live to write more books. I am so grateful to him for the intense reading pleasure he has given me.

It is a book that makes you think about the moral issues of biography, about what should and should not be destroyed (was it right that Kafka’s literary executor, Max Brod, refused to carry out Kafka’s wishes and burn all his unpublished works? Was Cassandra Austen right to burn her sister Jane’s more private correspondence?), and about how a writer’s life can be shaped for posterity.

Give yourself a treat, get the first audio book in the series, Dissolution, and keep going with the ones that follow. Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Oscar’s Ghost: The Battle for Oscar Wilde’s Legacy by Laura Lee, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31742378-oscar-s-ghost
Body image credit- C.J. Sansom audio books narrated by Anton Lesser, https://www.audible.com.au/

Comments (16)

  1. Eril Maybury

    I’ve just finished listening to Dissolution on audible and loved it. Loved Matthew very much and the historical setting is fascinating.
    So well written. So enjoyable.
    Can’t wait to listen to Dark Fire next. Thanks for the recommendation Susannah.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am making my way through the audio books with absolute delight, so glad I’ve got you hooked too!

  2. Marsha Elizabeth Mongeau

    Suzannah
    Thank you for the review of CJ Sansom. I love historical novels and mysteries and Sansom delivers both in one (actually several) books. I’ve devoured each of his books and agree they are the best! I waited anxiously for each new book in the Sharkdake series and was so sad to hear Sansom is not well. I wish him a full recovery and some restful downtime but want more of his books in the future.
    Have you read Dominion? His alternative history novel. It is very interesting although different from the Tudor mysteries.
    I haven’t tried the audio books but will now on your recommnedation.
    THank you for your newsletter which I await eagerly.
    Marsha, Toronto, Canada.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      How lovely to know that you too have adored CJ Sansom’s books. The history, characters, legal detail and mysteries, are all superb. Do try the audio versions – they are totally addictive.
      So nice to hear from a fellow Canadian (I was born in Edmonton, though left Canada at age of 4).

  3. Dee Selkirk

    Hi Susannah.
    I totally agree with you regarding C JSansom’s wonderful novels. I received the first as a gift then started
    to put them on Kindle, then I bought the whole series for my husband, because I couldn’t bear not to have the hard copies ! Like you, I have been trying to find out about his health. I for one will be heart broken if Tombland is his last book.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      So glad you share my passion for his books. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have more of them, leading into the era of Elizabeth I (which is what he originally planned).

    • Margy

      These books were very much a change for me but I adored them all. I also don’t normally enjoy reading books in a series but again CJ Sansom had me enthralled. I felt the heat, the cold, the dirt and all the smells that Matthew did! I watched Britain’s Most Historic Towns recently with the episode on Norwich, knowing the names and the history of the uprising. I will definitely look for the audio books for my next road trip.

      • Susannah Fullerton

        I am so glad you also love them! You just feel you are there in Tudor London.
        I met your parents recently, which was lovely!

  4. I own all the books and have read them through twice, the second time as I was writing a review for the Plantagenet Society on historical crime novels. So enjoyed them all and am so sorry to hear of C.J. Sansom’s failing health. I’d love to read the ‘next one’ with Elizabeth on the throne.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      So glad you share my love of Sansom’s novels. Let’s hope he recovers and can write more for us.

  5. Teresa Twomey

    I’ve just finished Heartstone by CJ Sansom and I loved it. I also read that the seventh book may be the last because the author is ill, therefore I want to hold on to the last two for as long as possible even though I’d love to start reading the 6th book right now. I’ll miss Matthew and Jack when I’m finished.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      They are so fabulous. I recently read them all again by listening to the unabridged audio versions read by Anton Lesser – superb!

  6. ray

    What a wonderful series. I first discovered them when I read former PM Theresa May had donated the first one to a lending library. Since then, I have read them all except for Tombland which I am presently on. I have noticed each new volume is longer and better.
    His standalone on the Spanish civil war in the 1930s is also excellent and bleak. I hate the thought of running out of this wonderful series.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I agree – a totally fabulous series. And I hadn’t heard that Theresa May also enjoyed them.
      I have adored listening to them read by Anton Lesser – he does it so superbly. And I long for more and hope Sansom’s health permits that.

  7. Bob

    I found my first Shardlake novel (a Hard copy of Heartstone) in a pile of books given to my wife from a work colleague at the start of the pandemic. I spent the summer of 2020 buying and reading the other six books. During this summer (2021) I re-read them all. Can’t think of better characters to spend my remaining summers with! I Hope there are other(s) to look forward to.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I think the fact that we can get such pleasure from rereading the books shows just how good they are. With most mystery novels, you don’t get much enjoyment from rereading because we know ‘who dunnit’, but it is the amrvellous historical detail in the Shardlake books, plus the superbly drawn characters that make them a delight to revisit.

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