Dissolution by C.J. Sansom – 20 Books of Summer 2024

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom was first published in 2003 and it’s the first book that I’ve read by the author, in fact it was only when I read his Guardian obituary when he died in April that I realised that I had almost certainly missed out on some really good reads. I think I did borrow one of his Shardlake books from the library before, but realised that it was part of a series, but never did get around to getting the first one, until now. I really enjoyed it.

The setting is England in 1537. It’s the year after Anne Boleyn’s execution and Henry VIII is beginning to dismantle the large network of monasteries that have managed to accumulate huge riches over the years. Henry is determined to strip them of their wealth and Thomas Cromwell has sent a young man to St Donatus Monastery to investigate their finances, but he is found dead there, he has been beheaded in the kitchen, and Cromwell sends Matthew Shardlake and his young apprentice to investigate the murder.

When they start to question the monks they soon realise that they are very far from being holy men, or even good men, the place is awash with sin, but which of them is a murderer?

This is an atmospheric read with a long snowstorm adding to the sense of menace as the monastery turns into a prison for Shardlake and his apprentice, trapped with  a murderer on the loose.

This was another of my 20 Books of Summer.

 

The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle – 20 Books of Summer 2023

 

The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle was published in 2016 and it definitely didn’t appear in my original list of 20 Books of Summer, because it’s a library book which I picked up after reading that it was set in Hardwick Hall, a place I’ve really enjoyed visiting in the past.

But Hardwick Hall is just a sumptuous prison for Arbella, she’s the granddaughter of Bess of Hardwick, but is also the great-granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister and that means that she’s in the running to be next in line to the throne when Queen Elizabeth I dies. Sadly Bess has no real love for her granddaughter, Arbella is just a step to power for the wildly ambitious Bess. Arbella has only one friend, her tutor and she’s bereft when he is sent away.

There are others who regard their family as having a good claim to the throne and with Elizabeth not making clear who she wants to succeed to the throne after her death it’s a breeding ground for family intrigues.

The chapter headings range from Hardwick, Clerkenwell, Richmond Palace, Barnet, Whitehall and Bishopsgate. The Clerkenwell sections feature Aemilia Lanyer who had been a poet at court and had lived a comfortable life until the death of her partner had plunged her into poverty. She’s living a hand to mouth existence and is in danger of being accused of witchcraft.

This was a really enjoyable read and the author was able to read the many letters which had been written by Arbella over the years, which must have been a great help in capturing her personality.

 

 

Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease – 20 Books of Summer 2023

Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease was first published in 1940 but my copy is a Puffin reprint which was published in 1965.

This book begins in Cumberland where there are a lot of skirmishes around the Scotland/England border, but it’s the local landowner Sir Philip who is causing the villagers big problems as he’s enclosing the land which had been used by the villagers for grazing their cattle on. The land grab has huge consequences for the locals who are already living a hand to mouth existence. They decide to break down Sir Philip’s wall  but Sir Philip and his men are about and Peter Brownrigg can’t resist the temptation to throw a stone at him, unfortunately he’s spotted doing it and a gun is fired at him, narrowly missing Peter’s head. The next day Sir Philip’s men come looking for Peter and he has to run away, if he’s caught he could be hanged!

London is the place to aim for and he falls in with another runaway lad on the way. They decide to stick together and look for work. They get taken on as apprentice actors in a travelling theatre group.  Of course it turns out to be William Shakespeare’s  company and the youngsters get involved in a dangerous intrigue involving the politics of  Elizabeth’s court.

This is the second book I’ve read recently which involves William Shakespeare and his company of players, even so this was a really good read.