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.