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More than 10 years ago, Kenneth Branagh was poised to play Matthew Shardlake for BBC. But he chose instead to star in Wallander. Since then, no news of an adaptation but you can read the celebrated book series.
What is the Matthew Shardlake series about?
Created by the Scottish-born writer C. J. Sansom, Matthew Shardlake is a hunchbacked lawyer-detective in the Tudor Court—during the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century.
In his adventures, he is assisted by Mark Poer and then Jack Barak. Shardlake works on commission initially from Thomas Cromwell, then from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Queen Catherine Parr.
Sansom has previously said that he plans to take the lawyer into the reign of Elizabeth I. We’ll see.
How to read the Matthew Shardlake Books in Order?
Every book in the Matthew Shardlake series works as a standalone story, but the lives of the different characters evolve from one novel to the other.
- Dissolution (2003)
- Dark Fire (2004)
- Sovereign (2006)
- Revelation (2008)
- Heartstone (2010)
- Lamentation (2014)
- Tombland (2018)
What is the plot of the Matthew Shardlake novels?
For more information about the books in the Matthew Shardlake series by C. J. Sansom, you’ll find below the official synopsis for all the books:
Dissolution – The year is 1537, and the country is divided between those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the king and the newly established Church of England. When a royal commissioner is brutally murdered in a monastery on the south coast of England, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s feared vicar general, summons fellow reformer Matthew Shardlake to lead the inquiry.
Dark Fire – In 1540, during the reign of Henry VIII, Shardlake is asked to help a young girl accused of murder. She refuses to speak in her defense even when threatened with torture. But just when the case seems lost, Thomas Cromwell, the king’s feared vicar general, offers Shardlake two more weeks to prove his client’s innocence. In exchange, Shardlake must find a lost cache of “Dark Fire,” a legendary weapon of mass destruction.
Sovereign – Shardlake and his loyal assistant, Jack Barak, find themselves embroiled in royal intrigue when a plot against King Henry VIII is uncovered in York and a dangerous conspirator they’ve been charged with transporting to London is connected to the death of a local glazer.
Revelation – In 1543, while Tudor England is abuzz with King Henry VIII’s wooing of Lady Catherine Parr, Matthew Shardlake is working to defend a teenage boy, a religious fanatic being held in the infamous Bedlam hospital for the insane. Then, when an old friend is murdered, Shardlake’s search for the killer leads him back not only to Bedlam but also to Catherine Parr–and the dark prophecies of the Book of Revelation.
Heartstone – Summer 1545. A massive French armada is threatening England, and Henry VIII has plunged the country into an economic crisis to finance the war. Meanwhile, an old servant of Queen Catherine Parr has asked Matthew Shardlake to investigate claims of “monstrous” wrongs committed against a young ward of the court.
Lamentation – Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. The Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry’s sixth wife– Queen Catherine Parr. The Queen has authored a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner who has inexplicably vanished. Shardlake’s investigations take him into the dark and labyrinthine world of court politics, a world Shardlake swore never to enter again.
Tombland – Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos. Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry’s younger daughter, the lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of one of Elizabeth’s distant relations, rumored to be politically murdered, draws Shardlake and his companion Nicholas to the lady’s summer estate, where a second murder is committed.
What should you read if you like the Matthew Shardlake novels?
If you like reading C. J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake stories, you may be interested in the Giordano Bruno series by S. J. Parris, the John Shakespeare series by Rory Clements, the Matthew Bartholomew series by Susanna Gregory, Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters, Hugh Corbett by Paul Doherty, or the Marwood and Lovett series.This article was last updated on May 25, 2023.