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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.