Saturday, February 14, 2009

BOOK REVIEW - CJ Samson - Revelation

CJ Samson, has over the space of the three previous books, 'Dissolution,' 'Dark Fire' and 'Sovereign,'established himself as the writer of historical detective fiction of this century. From 'Dissolution' through to 'Revelation' his eye for telling historical details, and conveying the atmosphere of 16th century London, has been consistent and richly textured. Peter Ackroyd, is the only other writer I know of, who can conjure up so vividly the periods feel, and its historical issues and conflicts. Always partly using the background of real historical events, Sampson in 'Revelation' bases his story in the period when Henry VIII's final wife to be,Catherine Parr, is playing hard to get, and all the political intrigue and subterfuge that ensues as a result. The character of Matthew Shardlake has now become well established,as a wise and sharp witted man, but not without a tender flaw arising out of being a hunchback. He's a lawyer, but above all he is a loyal, kind hearted, ethical man. Often honour bound, he keeps getting drawn back into the dangerous arena of the royal court and environs. In 'Revelation' he is on the track of a serial killer, whom he discovers is murdering according to a passage from The Book of Revelation. When one of his best friends turns out to be victim number two, he makes a promise to his friends wife, an old love,which leaves him morally bound to track down the culprit,

Of all the Shardlake novels this is perhaps the most morally complex, and certainly gruesome subject matter. As ever, Sampson keeps you guessing about the motive and identity of the killer, with plenty of red herrings and false trails. There was a bit of a sense when reading this, that the pace was too leisurely, with diversions dwelt on at unnecessary length, and as a consequence the storyline sometimes sagged or felt overstretched. This could certainly have been a slightly tighter and shorter book. It hasn't quite the same quality of being a compulsive roller coaster of a read, that all his previous books possessed. It maybe that the character of Shardlake, and the style of Sampson's writing having fully established itself, is now set, and has become a little restricting as a consequence. It is, nonetheless, a successful formula, both with the critics and with his readers, regularly getting into the top bestsellers list. Four novels in, it may be proving difficult to extend the compass of the genre, and develop interesting new twists within it. As he is nearing the final period of the reign of Henry VIII, one does wonder whether he should take a well earned break from Tudor England, rich though that seam is with material to mine.

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