1 January 2019 Susannah

The Brilliant C.J. Sansom

CJ Sansom & Tombland

With the plethora of murder mystery novels now available, some writers really try to be different in order to stand out from the crowd. Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann is highly unusual – the murder is solved by a flock of sheep, one of whom is called Miss Maple. It was originally written in German and has been translated into more than 30 languages. One critic has described it as “the best sheep detective novel ever written”, but I strongly suspect it is the only one, though I know there are cat and dog-solving crime novels on the market. I found it a pleasant, but fairly forgettable read.

Infinitely better is the book I have just finished – the very best novel I have read all year! I found it hard to believe that a book could provide such a strange mixture of joy and of sorrow. Joy because it was so superbly good, sorrow because its author is dying and there will be no more novels in the series. The book was Tombland by C.J. Sansom. I have written before in this newsletter about his superb mystery novels set in London in the time of King Henry VIII, though in this latest one it is Henry’s young son Edward who is on the throne. Sansom tragically has terminal cancer and has announced that Tombland will be his last. I am devastated! The series began in 2003 with Dissolution and just kept getting better and better with Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation, Heartstone, and Lamentation. On my last visit to London I took a Shardlake guided walk (Matthew Shardlake is the main character, for those of you who have not yet had the bliss of reading this series). I have read many mystery novels in my life, but absolutely none have been as good as the Shardlake novels!

I put off reading Tombland for some weeks, knowing it would be the last time I would be part of the Tudor world with those characters. I loved every page and am grieving that there’ll be no more. Great authors should not be allowed to die! Sansom is in my view an infinitely better novelist than Hilary Mantel who has also set novels in the Tudor era. I’d have given both her Booker prizes to the wonderful, historically-accurate, brilliant C.J. Sansom. To console myself, I’ll have to start enjoying them all over again on audio, read by the superb Anton Lesser.

What have been your favourite books this year? Tell me by leaving a comment.

   Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
   The Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.

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Featured image credit- C.J. Samson, https://www.babelio.com/auteur/C-J-Sansom/25680/photos and C.J. Sansom, https://pages.panmacmillan.com/c-j-sansom/

Comments (15)

  1. Margy

    Thanks Susannah. This series has been on my radar but your recommendation will send it to the top of my list.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh do give yourself the joy of reading this fabulous series! Happy New Year!

  2. Valerie Brown

    Dear Susannah,

    I was delighted to see that I am not alone in adoring the books of C J Sansom. He is indeed a genius. However, I was devastated to read that he is dying – that is such sad news, because he is only in his mid-sixties. He will be a great loss to the world of books, and life without another Shardlake book just doesn’t seem bearable!

    Whilst I have loved all the Shardlake books, I didn’t think that ‘Winter in Madrid’ was quite as good. Have you read it?

    Thank you for your lovely monthly newsletter – I always look forward to it so much.

    I also enjoyed the talk you gave in November at Sutherland Library about ‘Poldark’ – books I have to confess I have never read (or seen on TV). Maybe a project for 2019? I’m not a lover of books to film – if I have read a really good book, from experience, the film hardly ever does it justice.

    My best wishes to you for a very Happy New Year.

    Valerie Brown

    • Susannah Fullerton

      How fabulous that you are a fellow Shardlake fan. Yes, it is just so awful that he has cancer and there will be no more. He is not old and we should have had several more novels in this amazing series. My sister sent me a fascinating article about how CJ Sansom was badly bullied at school in Edinburgh. He wrote in defence of a girl who had suffered awful bullying at the same school. I think that experience must have given him the sympathy he has for Shardlake who is so taunted for being hunchbacked.
      Yes, I have read Winter in Madrid and like you, didn’t find it nearly as good as the Shardlake books.
      I am so glad you love my newsletter. I have fun sharing my love of books with so many other people.
      Happy New Year!

  3. Happy New Year Susannah and thanks for all the wonderful literary info. Just wanted to add my praise for the Shardlake series, which I have read with great enjoyment and appreciation. I’ve just embarked on Tombland (my Christmas present to myself) and am looking forward to the read! Flick Pulman

  4. wendy beverly

    I have loved all the Shardlake novels and am devestated to learn that there will be no more
    after Tombland , which I am about to read. I have been saving it for lazy Jan.
    Love your Book Notes Susannah . Thank you so much.
    Wendy Beverly

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it terrible that there will be no more Shardlake books. I am grieving!! I am so glad you enjoy my book notes – I do have fun writing them, though at the start of each month I wonder what on earth I’ll find to write about. Somehow something always crops up.
      Happy New Year.

  5. Carol Bibby

    Dear Susannah, I have only just found your monthly column but will be following it in the future, thank you from another book addict.

    How sad to find out that CJ Sansom is terminally ill and what a sad loss to the literary world, although the acknowledgements at the end of Tombland did allude to it. I have loved this series. My husband bought me the latest one for Christmas and like you I’d been saving it to savour over the hot January days (I’m in NZ). I’m so sad this is the last one. They should make a TV series, I was even trying to cast Shardlake. I think Tom Hollander would do a great job, what do you think?
    Kind Regards
    Carol Bibby

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it sad about his illness. I would just love more Shardlake novels. I have also wondered about a film version and I believe that Kenneth Branagh has optioned the books, but whether he is planning to act Shardlake or just direct, I’m not sure.
      Nice to hear from a fellow Kiwi – are you in Auckland?

  6. Barbara

    I totally agree 100%…I too am an avid reader always on the hunt for those exceptional books rarely found… but when I do it’s like discovering gold!.. I’m so sad to hear about CJ Sansom…he is an amazing author… if you haven’t read the Mathew Shardlake series & like crime/historical you will love the series

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It is so tragic about C J Sansom. I adore the Shardlake novels and hate to think there will be no more of them.

  7. Emma

    Next time in London please plan several days in Norwich. You won’t be disappointed. It’s a lovely city. The endpapers map for Tombland still work today. Go to the Norwich Society website and download to Shardlake walking tour. And in you in September during Heritage Open Days you can see places not usually open. Check out thier FB page.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have spent only one day in Norwich and that was thirty years ago, but reading Tombland made me long to go back. I remember it as a beautiful city and was impressed by the dignified statue of Edith Cavell. Thanks for letting me know about the Shardlake tour, which I will definitely do when I visit.

  8. Sarah

    Oh how sad! I’m in the middle of Tombland and was just thinking it would be fantastic to have his view on the development of Edward’s reign ~ I think he’s the same age as me so it really doesn’t seem old at all!
    I agree about Winter in Madrid but I really liked Dominion.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, it would have been wonderful to see what he had to say about Edward’s brief reign. He is not old and it is so terribly sad that we will have no more Shardlake.

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