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 ill and there may be no further 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 has revealed that he has cancer and that Tombland could be his last book. 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 could be the last time I would be part of the Tudor world with those characters. I loved every page and am upset that there may not be any more to enjoy. Great authors should go on and on! 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.
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   Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
   The Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom

Susannah Fullerton: Absorbed in C.J. Sansom
C.J. Sansom official website

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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 (41)

  1. Christie

    I am devastated! I so loved these books, look forward to more adventures….

    • Susannah Fullerton

      One reader recently questioned my statement that there would be no more Shardlake books, and said that Sansom has had cancer for ages and is still coping. I would love to be proved wrong and do so hope we might get another fabulous Shardlake novel.

  2. Ben

    I am a massive fan of the Shardlak series too. I’ve just finished Tombland.

    I can’t find anything that confirms Sanson has said he won’t write another book though. He’s had incurable cancer for nearly a decade. Could you point me to your source?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      A friend in the UK sent me an article which stated that Sansom had announced he had terminal cancer and that ‘Tombland’ would be his last. I’d so love to be proved wrong. However, I did feel that ‘Tombland’ ended with the sense that there would be no more. I’d love at lest a dozen more fabulous Shardlake books.

  3. Danni

    Oh I was very late with reading these books! I by chance came across Dissolution on my way for a holiday and was immediately hooked. I’ve loved all the books and so sad there will be no more! I will miss all the characters! I’m now reading similar books and while they are good reads they ain’t Shardlake!
    We need a TV series!!!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, they are fabulous and it is tragic that there will be no more. There was some talk of them being made into films with Kenneth Branagh, but I don’t know what has happened to that project.


    So sad to read about CJ Sansom being so ill ,I first read one of his Tudor series “DISSOLUTION ” last year and have just finished his third “Sovereign” at the age of 77 I have read many books but this series has me firmly in its grasp unlike some of the dry as dust historical tomes on offer.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it a fabulous series. He really brings the era alive – you just feel you are there in Tudor London.

  5. Anita

    I too am devastated that this most brilliant writer will not be writing any more books, particularly the Shardlake series. I was totally addicted to these books and was impatiently waiting for another. The most fitting tribute would be if the BBC made a drama series of them with Mark Rylance as Mathew Shardlake. Any body listening?!?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Wouldn’t the Shardlake books make a fabulous TV series. I did hear that Kenneth Branagh had optioned them, but don’t know how accurate that was. He could make a good Matthew.

  6. Nancy

    I was introduced to the Shardlake series mid 2019 … I have just now finished Tombland. I am devastated that this is the last one! Sincerely sorry the author has terminal cancer!!! There were obviously so many more stories to be conjured but for that!!!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it a wonderful series, and just so tragic that poor Sansom is dying. I would love at least another 7 books in the series!

      • Ben

        Such sad news about CJ sansom. No more shardlake, my thoughts are with him and his family. His novels are genius and will be greatly missed by anyone who loves a great read.

        Thanks for your articles, kind regards

        Ben from Ireland.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Very nice to hear from an Irish reader of my blog. I have taken some groups of Australians on gorgeous literary tours of your wonderful country. Yes, it is terribly sad that there will be no more glorious Shardlake novels! Happy New Year.

  7. Ray

    I discovered CJ Sansom only a fortnight ago. I have read the first 2 Shardlakes and today bought Tombland. I will try to keep it on the shelf until I have caught up with the 4 earlier novels I have not yet read. I am totally a fan and am devastated by the tragic news of his health.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh what a lovely reading journey you have ahead of you. I think my favourites are Sovereign, when Matthew goes to York, and Lamentation, concerning the book the Queen writes. But they are all fabulous and it is so tragic that there will be no more.

  8. Barbara Scott

    I am heartbroken that Tombland will be the last book in the Shardlake series due to the devastating illness of C.J.Sansom. I was so looking forward to the continuation of the series featuring Mary and Elizabeth. Mr. Sansom has become one of my favourite authors and my prayers are with him and his family.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it terrible that there will be no more fabulous Shardlake novels. Like you, I feel devastated. He is so brilliant at conjuring up atmosphere of that era and creating memorable characters.

  9. Christine

    I too loved all the Shardlake books and I’m devastated that C J is dying. How sad. The atmosphere and the characters he created were magnificent. My favourite author by far

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I think I need to read all the books again! It is so terribly sad that there will be no more of them. He’s my favourite mystery writer ever!

  10. Susannah Fullerton

    Isn’t it terribly sad that he is so sick. I loved Tombland but read it with such a sense of sadness knowing it would be the last of this superb series.

  11. Susannah Fullerton

    I am so glad you share my passion for the Shardlake novels. CJ Sansom is just so very good on historical detail and creating atmosphere. I feel terribly sad that he is sick and there will be no more wonderful books. Like you, I’ve always loved historical fiction.

  12. Susannah Fullerton

    I was in London about a year ago and managed to book a Shardlake Walk. It was really great to see places associated with his wonderful novels. I found the guide on-line and did the walk with 5 friends so there were enough of us to pay for it. She was a good guide, but not a fantastic one. I think I need to go back to the beginning and read all the books again.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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!

  20. 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!

      • Susannah Fullerton

        It is terribly sad, isn’t it, that there will be no more Shardlake novels. He has terminal cancer.
        I did the Shardlake tour in London and enjoyed it, but would not rave about it. I believe there is now one in Norwich for the last book.

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