Written by C. J. Sansom
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

1545, and England is at war with France; the war is going badly wrong for both king and country. A French fleet waits to sail across the Channel to invade, the largest militia the country has ever seen has been raised, and legal tender to pay for it has been debased by the king.

Into this febrile environment, Matthew Shardlake and his trusty servant Barak are drawn into an intriguing law case involving an old servant of Queen Catherine Parr that could earn them high-ranking enemies and put their lives in danger. A seemingly unconnected case involving the mysterious past of Ellen Fettipace, a young woman in Bedlam that Shardlake has befriended, causes Shardlake emotional turmoil. As the two cases converge, Shardlake is forced to travel to Portsmouth as military tension reaches its height and he soon finds himself in the toughest of spots.

This is the fifth adventure of Matthew Shardlake, the intelligent, principled, stubborn, hunchbacked Tudor lawyer, and C. J. Sansom continues to mine wonderfully this seam of history. The narrative is complex and ever twisting and contains some wonderful large-scale scenes, including the sinking of the ship Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s pride and joy. As with his previous books, while the authentic and detailed background is impressive and wholly convincing, it is the rich characterisation that is the core of Heartstone. Here, the reader is drawn further into the inner world of Shardlake, a man who usually tries to do the right thing but doesn’t always succeed.

I look forward with impatience to the next adventure.