Palm Sunday, 1543: Henry VIII, having only recently beheaded his fifth wife, is wooing a very reluctant Catherine Parr. Sergeant Matthew Shardlake, now a senior barrister in Lincoln’s Inn, has been given a case he does not want; to defend young Adam Kite, son of a master stonemason who has been put into the Bedlam for religious madness. Meanwhile, Archbishop Cranmer is troubled with a succession of killings in London which may involve the King’s new lady.
Revelation is the fourth of C.J. Sansom’s excellent Shardlake series. It is perhaps overlong, but the author has a style that is elegantly enjoyable and makes the novel often impossible to put down. The descriptions of mid-16th century London and of Westminster just after the dissolution of the Abbey are atmospheric, capturing the disorderliness, ordure, smells and ripeness that must have been present then.
Skilfully constructed, the book describes in specific detail the changes in Christian worship when people were questioning their beliefs. England was turning from Roman papism towards Luther and Calvin. The Bible, which had been printed for the first time in English, was banned to women and the working classes. Into this melting pot of religious fervour, a killer stalks the streets. Using the seven dark prophecies from the Book of Revelation as his chosen method of slaughter, he marks a trail that can only lead to Armageddon. Matthew Shardlake is once again drawn into solving the mystery.
This is the best kind of historical novel: a story that never falters, with interesting and compelling characters, and written with a masterful command of the period.