In my quest to read all the Matthew Shardlake books by C. J. Sansom before I read the latest one, I’ve reached Sovereign, the third book in the series. Shardlake is sent to York to join Henry VIII’s Progress to the North in 1541. His task is to ensure that a prisoner who was part of a conspiracy to overthrow the king survives the trip to London, where he’s to be tortured in the Tower. Once in York, Shardlake gets involved in murder and has many puzzles to solve.
This is a long book and it feels like a long book. It’s not enough that Shardlake has to solve one murder, but he also gets involved in a conspiracy, falls foul of the king, makes more powerful enemies and receives information about Queen Catherine Howard’s nocturnal activities. Some of these things are red herrings, but it does mean that there are many suspects for all the murders, thefts and attempted murders. I do feel, though, that it’s too long.
I thought I had forgotten who was behind the intrigues and murders, since it’s almost twelve years since I first read it, but I hadn’t and it was interesting to read the novel knowing who the guilty party is. I had completely forgotten what motivated that person, though, and all the sub-plots were entirely gone from my head. Some of them are more substantial than others.
One of the books Sansom used for research is David Starkey’s Six Wives. It’s sitting on my bookshelf and Sovereign has given me a taste for reading it. I know next to nothing about Catherine Howard, the fifth of the six. This is hardly surprising, as she was married to Henry VIII for a little over a year. She was the second wife to be beheaded, an event which occurs in the epilogue of the novel.
As with the previous two novels in the series, I have no hesitation in recommending Sovereign to people who like mysteries, particularly those in a historical setting. I’m looking forward to reading Revelation, the fourth book in the series.