Dark Fire

My personal Tudor crime wave continues with the second in C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series, Dark Fire. We don’t have the first three in this series at the Key West Library so I’ve gotten the first two, and now put in a request for the third, via interlibrary loan. If you’re an avid reader and you can’t afford to buy tons of books, interlibrary loan is the thing for you by the way. More on that in a future post.

So this book was good — better, I think, than the first in the series, Dissolution, as it juggled two mysteries — what is the titular dark fire, an ancient weapon reputed to put an entire ship on flames in no time, and what is going on with Elizabeth Wentworth, a young girl accused of throwing her bratty cousin down a well? The dark fire has disappeared after the men who discovered it turn up dead. And Elizabeth Wentworth won’t talk. And Shardlake has 12 days to solve both puzzles.

The time element feels a bit forced though the book is set in the waning days of Thomas Cromwell’s life, as Henry VIII is looking to dump Anne of Cleves and the Duke of Norfolk is using his niece, Catherine Howard, to vault himself into power. As always, these books when done well area useful reminder that most people weren’t devout Catholics or committed reformers — they were just people, struggling with their faith, their livelihoods and attempting to survive in turbulent times.

My only real problem with this book came right at the end when there was one of those terrible scenes that my friend Dave calls the Scooby-Doo moment — when the villain just has to explain to our heroes exactly what he or she has done and why — and at the same time our heroes do something that even I knew was a Very Bad Idea. So even though I’m along for the ride on these books, that one stretched the plausibility envelope a little too much. Still, an enjoyable well-crafted read. AB

And on to the next … though I have lots of books I should be reading for lots of reasons I came across a new one by Vanora Bennett, one of my favorite of the newer historical fiction writers, on the library shelf yesterday. The Queen’s Lover recounts the story of Catherine of Valois and the founding of the Tudor dynasty. I very much enjoyed two of her previous books, Portrait of an Unknown Woman and Figures in Silk. And the coolest thing about this, because it’s becoming relatively rare for me, is that I wasn’t on the lookout for this book, I just stumbled upon it while shelving new fiction. These days I read so many book reviews and other promotional materials that just finding something I am pretty sure will be up my alley is lovely. I suppose that’s what’s most endangered by digital publication — and I hate to join the Luddite faction because, on the whole, the Internet and its variations have brought me so much information and access to great reading. But a nice find was a good feeling that I hadn’t realized I missed.

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