Matthew Shardlake, a mid-16th Century lawyer from London, is dispatched by Thomas Cromwell to investigate the death of one of his commissioners in a monastery on the south coast. Cromwell is in the middle of a program of dissolving all the monasteries; his commissioner was killed while performing an assessment, and so there are plenty of suspects.
I'd expected something along the lines of a brother Cadfael book - a period whodunnit. I only read one Cadfael book, ages ago, and didn't like it, so I can't say that this is exactly the same type of thing, but it's pretty much what I expected.
Despite the rave reviews and awards this book has won, I didn't think it was that great. There was a fair amount of historical detail - the author has a PhD in history and so it's not too surprising - and this was quite interesting, but the plot itself wasn't anything special, the writing was pedestrian, and I couldn't really get very excited about it. I spotted part of the solution fairly early on, but when the whole thing came out it wasn't that interesting.
I'm not really sure why it is so well regarded, e.g. "The best crime novel I have read this year" (Colin Dexter). Perhaps that was the first crime novel he'd read that year.
One thing that struck me was the way they cursed - "God's wounds", "God's death", etc.. I assume that this didn't count as blasphemy in those days, since Matthew, who claims to be religious, and all the monks do it.
There are a few more in the Shardlake series, but I don't think I'll bother to read them.
Completed : 06-Jun-2009