14,765 book reviews and counting...

Books in the Media Update

This website is no longer being updated; theBookseller.com is the home of all books related-content and will continue to be updated with regular articles about books featured in the media. Thank you for using this website, and we hope you join us on theBookseller.com.

Tombland Reviews

Tombland by C. J. Sansom


C. J. Sansom

4.00 out of 5

8 reviews

Imprint: Mantle
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication date: 18 Oct 2018
ISBN: 9781447284482

Number one bestselling author C. J. Sansom heads to Norwich, as Shardlake embarks upon a new investigation . . .

1 Prize for Tombland

The British Book Awards
2019 Shortlist: Fiction Book of the Year

Alice O’Keeffe, Books Editor at The Bookseller, said: “Our shortlists this year took the judges from Georgian London to the Second World War to contemporary New York. There are books from exciting fresh voices at the very start of their career, contrasted with books from with well-established brand authors at the top of their game. These are the books that sum up 2018 but which, we think, will be read for years to come.”


4 stars out of 5
19 Jan 2020

"Sansom’s deep reading about the past, creatively processed, gives Shardlake’s adventures special historical value. "

One of Sansom’s finest achievements is his exploration of memory. The privilege of hindsight is not denied to his characters, who reflect on the past as it is to them, distant and near, to make sense of their changing situation. Common law builds on custom and precedent. Shardlake reads Pliny and Plutarch as well as Erasmus and More, and daydreams about the Knights Templar worshipping in the Temple church as he wanders among their graves. Catherine Parr likes old coins: ‘They remind us we are but specks of dust amid the ages.’ Monasteries echo with what had seemed the eternal verities of their Norman founders. Scarnsea’s bells were old Spanish trophies; its best relic travelled from 11th-century France and before that from Ancient Rome. English towns and villages are haunted by the ghosts of disappeared charity and credit, and by spectres of hunger and rebellion, tales of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. All this weaving and unweaving of time is rich in historical purpose. At the end of Dissolution, Shardlake remarks that ‘uncovering complicated truths is never easy.’ But, like his creator, he’s pretty good at it.

4 stars out of 5
Stephanie Merritt
28 Oct 2018

"800 pages in Shardlake’s company will always fly by."

Shardlake is a superb creation, who gains more substance with each new book; he questions and challenges the political shifts of his age while remaining entirely plausibly shaped by them... In a 50-page essay appended to the novel, he delves into the background and causes of the uprising, and considers why it has been overlooked in popular Tudor histories. The novel’s murder plot rather slips into the background, as Sansom creates a vivid picture of life in Kett’s camp outside Norwich, as the rebels prepare to take the city; the echoes of a popular leader promising to lead desperate people against self-serving elites are there for readers to interpret as they wish. Tombland is more of a grand historical epic than a tightly packed whodunnit, like some of the earlier novels; but 800 pages in Shardlake’s company will always fly by.

4 stars out of 5
Jake Kerridge
27 Oct 2018

"honest Shardlake shines like a beacon amid the muck, making the book ultimately more of a heart-warmer than a blood-chiller"

Tombland, the seventh novel in the series, opens in 1549, with both Catherine and her mountainous husband dead... The whodunit part of the story takes a back seat, however, once Shardlake gets caught up in Kett's Rebellion, a revolt against the enclosure of land. The comparisons that have been made with Hilary Mantel or The Name of the Rose oversell the levels of depth and originality in Sansom's books, and linguistic anachronisms pop up slightly too frequently, but there is no doubt that he has the rare knack of bringing the past to life in three dimensions. This is a very long book and a grim one too, depicting life in filthy old Tudor England as a less sanitary version of the tyrannical, capricious regimes we associate with the mid-20th century. But the honest Shardlake shines like a beacon amid the muck, making the book ultimately more of a heart-warmer than a blood-chiller.

4 stars out of 5
20 Oct 2018

"Tombland is not to be treated lightly. Its length hints at its ambitions."

Tombland is not to be treated lightly. Its length hints at its ambitions. Here is a Tudor epic disguised as a historical crime novel... Where Shardlake goes, so do we. Sansom has the trick of writing an enthralling narrative. Like Hilary Mantel, he produces densely textured historical novels that absorb their readers in another time. He has a PhD in history and it shows — in a good way. He is scrupulous about distinguishing between fact and fiction. (Typically, the last 60 pages of Tombland consist of a substantial historical note and a bibliography.) He also relishes the language of the time. It’s difficult not to warm to a book in which typical insults are ‘you dozzled spunk-stain’ or ‘you bezzled puttock’... Is Tombland unnecessarily long? Probably, but I’m not complaining.

  • The GuardianBook of the Year
3 stars out of 5
Laura Wilson
19 Oct 2018

"a thumping 847 pages of glorious pageantry"

Tombland, the long-awaited seventh novel by CJ Sansom about Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake, is a thumping 847 pages of glorious pageantry...Although the main storyline is sometimes lost in all the hurly-burly, Sansom handles his huge cast with aplomb. This is a totally immersive and vividly written tale: compelling reading for history lovers and crime aficionados alike. 

  • The Sunday TimesMust Read
5 stars out of 5
Peter Kemp
14 Oct 2018

"Shardlake returns in an enthralling read"

Its leader Robert Kett is admired for his organisational flair and humane shrewdness. They’re qualities that also distinguish this novel. With remarkable expertise, sustained over more than 850 pages, Sansom weaves together a wide cast of characters and knits his murder story into a vivid tapestry of little-known historical happenings. From it, victims of cruelty, personal and political, affectingly stand out, as Tombland, the curious name of Tudor Norwich’s most affluent locality, becomes sombrely applicable to a traumatised nation.

3 stars out of 5
13 Oct 2018

" a different kind of literary pleasure, blending impeccable historical research with a bloody good whodunnit"

While Mantel peers into the souls of her characters, Sansom offers a different kind of literary pleasure, blending impeccable historical research with a bloody good whodunnit...Sadly, Kett is a pretty tedious character — most of Sansom’s protagonists are there to signify types, rather than be flesh and blood people — who would probably be booed off stage at a Momentum conference. And, just as we knew what was going to happen when Shardlake boarded a ship called the Mary Rose (in the fifth novel, Heartstone) so it’s all too predictable what is going to happen to Kett and his fellow insubordinates. Kett’s Rebellion is on Wikipedia, for one thing...And, oof, the bleakness of Tombland is also hard at times. As well as the longest of the books, this is Sansom’s most depressing, with torture, child abuse, and rape all rife in 1540s Norfolk. 

5 stars out of 5
11 Oct 2018

"it’s the author’s inclusive humanity that lingers"

In the seventh of the bestselling Matthew Shardlake series, its clever, empathetic, hunchbacked hero is now a serjeant-at-law. Henry VIII is dead and his sickly son, Edward, is king. Shardlake is commissioned by Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth, to solve the macabre murder of one of her distant Boleyn relations in Norfolk. Here, he runs smack into the dangers of a popular uprising against the enclosures that are preventing the people from using their traditional common land. Legal procedures, the struggle to survive at a time of rampant inflation, the political and religious ferment of the towns and villages...Tudor England of 1549 is effortlessly evoked. The murder mystery absorbs, the characters are vivid and the history is seductive, but it’s the author’s inclusive humanity that lingers.