Monday, August 10, 2009

King Henry VIII's favorite hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake makes another appearance in Dark Fire, the second book in the series by C.J. Sansom. After having (as he thought) distanced himself from the King's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, at the end of the last book, Shardlake is looking forward to returning to his quiet life as a lawyer in London.

He is quickly to learn that his life is going to be anything but quiet. He is convinced to take on the defense of a teen aged girl who is being accused of having thrown her 12 year old cousin down a well. Making matters more difficult, the girl refuses to speak or enter a plea to the charges in court. At that time, the response to such willful disobedience to the court was pressing under heavy stones until either a plea was entered, or death occurred.

While working on this perplexing case, Matthew is once again summoned to the offices of Thomas Cromwell. It seems that the king has heard that the ancient and deadly weapon Greek Fire has been rediscovered. A pair of brothers, who worked as alchemists, had arranged a demonstration of Greek Fire which had greatly intrigued the king. Unfortunately, the brothers had been found murdered, with no trace of the Greek Fire or any instructions on how to make it. Since Cromwell felt his influence with the king slipping away, he was desperate to obtain the secret for how to make Greek Fire. This time, in sending Matthew out on his dangerous task, he sends along an assistant, the brutish thug Jack Barack to help to persuade those who might not wish to speak.

More murders follow, and Matthew and Jack always seem to be one step behind the killers. At the same time, there are visits to the prison cell of the accused girl and her family, nearly all of whom think she's guilty. Aside from the conflicts plaguing Matthew, there are plenty of conflicts between factions loyal to Cromwell and those loyal to the Duke of Norfolk, and the always uneasy balance between Catholics and Protestants. It was an extremely dangerous time, when someone who was a favorite at court one day could be beheaded for treason the next.

In contrast to the first book, this book seems to have much more action. There are numerous times when Matthew and Jack find themselves backed into a corner, with no possible escape. Talk about suspense! I'm now extremely anxious to read the two follow-up books to find out what Matthew gets up to next!

Final Verdict for Dark Fire: Four Gherkins, for being a suspenseful page-turner with many interesting historical facts thrown in


Anonymous said...

Thanks for connecting with me on Twitter! Love your blog!!

Lisanne624 said...

Thanks, J. Kyae, always great to connect with fellow book lovers!

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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