Three things I fear when I start a book. A book which is not borrowed but bought from my own savings, a book which with these three points can spell “Yawanathon” for me and can literally throw me into financial ruin for investing in a worthless adventure. Those three points are,
1. The author’s proclamation of being a HUGE fan of P.D. James (God rest her soul in peace).
2. A book which is 660 pages long, with long paragraphs.
3. A blurb from Colin Dexter which speaks about the book’ other aspects, but doesn’t mention how good is the mystery.
And thus justifiably frightened and with an apprehensive attitude I started SOVERIEGN by C.J. Sansom, and within a first few chapters I found out that despite all the above three points being present I am starting to enjoy the book. And the book proved to be such a marvel that after a long time I broke my own rule “If a book is not finished within a week, then it’s too boring too finish..ever, so skip to the next book” and took 16 odd days to complete this marvellous piece of crime fiction which is set in the times of Henry VIII, the middle age Lothario.
This book is a revelation. How many protagonists do we come across who gets bullied, beaten and threatened by every bad guy in the town, including the King. This guy, Matthew Shardlake does. He is just a lawyer and he gets bullied and shaken by high ranking bada**, and like a normal human being he endures those insults instead of throwing caution to wind and challenging the lot, like some “fictional” protagonists with “fictional” abilities would do. When laughed and mocked at, due to his physical deformation, unlike some wise crack hero who uses wit to counter every remark, he silently suffers and at times vocally protests. He is shown to be a human, yes a clever one, but a human after all who feels sad, suffers when laughed at like most of us. Cudos to Sansom for creating such a character. And not to forget his assistant Jack Barak, a faithful companion who is outraged when his master is mocked, but gets angry when the same master questions his fiancé, but runs all over London just to save his master. Another very human character.
Lastly the plot, mashed with the historical atmosphere was something I lapped up like a hungry dog. Being a silent lover of history thrust into finance, I love to read these historical mysteries. I don’t complain if the historical part overshadows the mystery, but Sansom kept enough history, his descriptions of the reform, and King henry or the greed of Sir Richard Rich were very potent, never made it boring, and silently threw in a plot which is fast, which pits a man low in social strata against villains much higher in the pecking order, he exposes the man’s fears and the villain’s greed all within the framework of a tightly woven plot, and when the finishing pages starts arriving he unleashes twists after twists which is worthy of a standing ovation.
So, though I am sad of Dame Phyllis James death, I can never call myself a fan of her works. But, I am surely, from this day, counting myself as a fan of one of her fan, C.J. Sansom.