Spiritual Renewal in Palm Springs

The Family Tabor     Cherise Wolas     (2018)

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Harry Tabor, the current patriarch of the Tabor family, hears a voice. It might be his conscience speaking to him, commenting on long-repressed memories. It might be God calling him to account for his life. It might be an ancestor speaking from the grave, or maybe it’s dementia.

Harry is 70 years old and about to be crowned Man of the Decade by the good people of Palm Springs, where he has long resided with his adored and adoring wife, Roma, doing the philanthropic work of resettling Jewish refugees from around the world. As the novel begins, Harry is at the top of his game, feeling healthy, proud, and deserving of all the praise that is being heaped upon him. Then that voice comes, on the very day of the Man of the Decade presentation event, which will be attended by 800 people decked out in their best. Harry was brought up as a Jew, but throughout his adult life he’s embraced the cultural aspects of Judaism more than the spiritual. Sure, he and Roma attend synagogue for the High Holy Days, but Harry doesn’t really buy into the concept of a deity and doesn’t, for example, truly repent his sins.

All that is about to change, and Harry’s seemingly perfect family life is about to explode also. Harry and Roma’s three adult children are traveling to Palm Springs to celebrate with their father, and the novelist takes us into each of their lives, revealing disturbing problems. Meanwhile, Roma, who is a child psychologist, is struggling with a particularly difficult case. Can Roma help her own children face their demons? Can a return to heartfelt religious observance heal these wounded people? Or can they at least embrace honesty in their relationships?

Novelist Cherise Wolas is only moderately successful in crafting the story of the Tabors. Some of the characters’ interactions feel forced, and the wrap-up of the book is abrupt and awkward. But Wolas deserves to be commended for tackling an exploration of the role of the spiritual in twenty-first-century life. Full-scale adherence to the rules and rituals of a particular faith is an option, and although Judaism is the faith that Wolas presents in most detail, one character seems to be testing a return to the Roman Catholicism of her youth. Being part of a community whose members share values and support each other in worship and in daily life works for some people. For others, spiritual renewal might mean a commitment to complete honesty in personal and professional interactions. Honesty can serve as a foundation for building a moral code upon which to base a fulfilling life, with or without a component involving organized religion. Harry Tabor has been a generous man and has done great good works for decades, but the voice that speaks to him makes clear that Henry’s philanthropy isn’t enough. He needs to face some serious failures and betrayals that he’d rather forget.  

The Family Tabor addresses tough moral and ethical questions in an era when the value of adherence to moral and ethical standards is being severely tested. If these issues concern you, take a look at what Cherise Wolas has to say.

A Cautionary Novel about Cults

Little Faith     Nickolas Butler     (2019)

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In the title to this blog post, I don’t use the word “cult” lightly. I use it to mean a group professing a religious belief that they claim provides exclusive access to salvation. But this alone would not distinguish a cult from many mainstream religious groups. Cults often have arcane rules about conduct of life—rules that can be secretive. In addition, a cult demands absolute obedience to a leader, usually a charismatic man, and urges total allegiance to the group, alienating members from family and indeed from the greater society. The risk of exploitation of members by the cult’s leader is high.

I’ve noticed that the media don’t much use the term “cult” lately, rather giving these groups the benefit of the doubt as “new sects” or “alternative religious movements.” I was raised in the 1960s in a religious splinter group that fell short of being a cult but that could also have been given one of these more benign labels. I see a distinct tipping point between “new sect” and “cult”: When a member’s fervent adherence to the group leads the member to perform destructive (including self-destructive) acts that are widely recognized by civil society as unacceptable or even criminal, to me that group is clearly a cult.

Now, to get the novel at hand, Little Faith. In present-day rural Wisconsin, a retired couple, Lyle and Peg Hovde, are delighted when their long-estranged adult daughter, Shiloh, comes to live with them again. Shiloh brings with her Isaac, her five-year-old son. The Hovdes don’t ask about Isaac’s father; they’re just reveling in their newfound grandparenthood. And Isaac is a bright, sweet child.

The knot of this novel, however, arises when we find that Shiloh has become a member of a cult. True, Shiloh calls the group that she joins her “church,” but it has all the hallmarks of a cult. Lyle and Peg try to be respectful of Shiloh’s beliefs, not the least because they’re desperate to have good relationships with their only child and only grandchild. But the deceptive and damaging aspects of Shiloh’s beliefs become more and more apparent as the story wends through the seasons of a year. Lyle’s own struggles with religious belief weave in and out of the narrative.

Nickolas Butler’s prose is straightforward but occasionally lyrical, his characters are beautifully developed, and his plot is achingly tragic. I challenge any reader of Little Faith not to weep at the ending of the novel, which I will not spoil with a full revelation of the plot. An Author’s Note tells us that part of the story is based on an actual 2008 incident in Wisconsin, where Butler lives. Thus, Little Faith becomes a cautionary tale about the dangers of extremist, authoritarian groups that entrap needy souls in the name of religion.

Click here for my review of another of Nickolas Butler’s novels, The Hearts of Men.

Evangelical Secrets

The Book of Essie     Meghan MacLean Weir     (2018)

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Given the prevalence of news stories about sexual abuse of children, women, and young men by priests in the Catholic Church, we may fall into the assumption that such abuse does not occur very much in Protestant evangelical religious groups. This novel is here to remind us that, wherever there is a great imbalance of power in a relationship, the potential for abuse of all kinds exists, and cover-ups that prolong the agony of the victims are certainly not limited to church hierarchies operating behind the closed doors of Catholic bishops’ offices.

The story of Esther (“Essie”) Hicks seems transparent. She’s one of the stars of the long-running fictional reality TV show Six for Hicks, which has chronicled the career of a preacher father (Jethro), a scheming mother (Celia), and their six children since before Essie’s birth. Essie is the youngest member of the family, and now, at age 17, she finds herself pregnant. Since it’s clear that her daily activities are tightly circumscribed and often filmed, readers suspect early on that the pregnancy is unlikely to have been the result of a consensual relationship.

 We hear from three characters in turn, in first-person narrative:

  • Essie Hicks;

  • Roarke Richards, a male student at Essie’s high school who is not really part of the Hicks religious group; and

  • Liberty (“Libby”) Bell, who herself grew up in a different ultra-conservative millennarian cult and is now a journalist reporting on Essie.

Essie seems to have an elaborate plan to escape her family and provide financial security for herself and her unborn child, drawing on the significant resources generated for her parents by the TV show and by her father’s ministry. “Don’t get mad, get even,” she says at one point (131), as she remains improbably calm. However, the specifics of Essie’s plan are not revealed, even though readers hear directly from her throughout the novel. A lot is left to guesswork, and that keeps those pages turning. I was especially fascinated by the background details offered by the novelist, such as the phrasing used by the evangelicals in their conversations. Perhaps this was because I was brought up in a similar fundamentalist environment—though minus the reality TV show. I know the territory. Roarke sums up Essie’s family and her entire religious community in one explosive sentence: “You are, all of you, manipulative, self-centered, egomaniacal phonies. You use people up and you toss them aside.” (140)

The Book of Essie certainly has its flaws. I wanted much more character development of Essie’s father, Rev Jethro Hicks, the preacher who has kept evangelicals spellbound both in his mega-church and on television for decades. I wanted more explanation of the personality of the inscrutable Celia Hicks, Essie’s mother and the true force behind the media throne that Jethro occupies. I wanted more background on Essie’s five older siblings. I wanted less unrealistic analysis of difficult life situations by teenagers (Essie, Roarke), however precocious they may be. I wanted less of the distracting subplot about the tragic life story of Libby Bell.

Still, the narrative momentum of The Book of Essie is strong, with the author withholding the revelation of the paternity of Essie’s baby until late in the novel. The exploitation of Essie, not just by the man who impregnated her but by the many people who conspired to hide this crime, is painful to read about. Sadly, Essie’s story plays out in real life all too often. 

 

A Very Long Marriage

 Midwinter Break     Bernard MacLaverty     (2017)

Irish author Bernard MacLaverty’s latest novel, Midwinter Break, is a masterful study of the pleasures and trials of a very long marriage.

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Gerry and Stella are in their seventies. They grew up in Northern Ireland during the hidebound 1950s and then experienced the Troubles, that period of Catholic/Protestant terrorism and guerrilla warfare on the island that began in the late 1960s. As adults, they moved to Scotland to escape violence and pursue their careers, Gerry in architecture and Stella in teaching. They’re retired now, financially comfortable, and their grown son lives in Canada with his family, so their lives have emptied out, in a sense. To fill the void, Stella, who has always been a devout Catholic, is trying to develop her spiritual life further. Non-believer Gerry, on the other hand, has upped his alcohol consumption to a dangerous level.

It’s January, and Stella has organized a short vacation to Amsterdam for the two of them. If trading one cold, dreary winter site (Scotland) for another that’s equally cold and dreary (the Netherlands) seems odd, well, it is. Readers eventually learn Stella’s hidden agenda for the trip, just as readers come to understand Gerry’s obsession with alcohol, which he tries to hide.

MacLaverty manages his prose in such a way that he makes the minutiae of daily life truly fascinating. I do not know how he does this. At the level of the sentence, the actions of his characters are trivial, but the overall effect of his paragraphs and chapters is riveting, even when he’s describing such mind-numbing details as negotiating suitcases and shampoo bottles and security checks in an airport. Part of his technique must be rooted in his dialogue, which is so perfectly tuned that I feel certain I’ve heard some of the lines verbatim in real life.

Stella and Gerry are at heart quite compatible and affectionate toward each other, although she does carp a bit about his drinking, and he engages in some gentle mockery of her religiosity. Gerry automatically steers Stella by the elbow at busy street corners, knowing her fear of traffic. Stella indulges Gerry’s long tarrying at certain art works in the Rijksmuseum. They both have physical ailments that are common for their ages, but they don’t let these dominate their lives; instead they have “the Ailment Hour,” a limited time period each day when they tell each other about their aches and pains.

All is not connubial bliss, however. Shadows from a horrible past event hang over the couple, and the full power of this event is not revealed until late in the narrative. The stereotypical issues of many Irish tales, religion and drink, are key to the conflicts between Stella and Gerry, but in MacLaverty’s capable hands they are never trite. Stella’s religious beliefs, for example, are treated respectfully. But MacLaverty does go full Irish in invoking James Joyce in the final chapters of Midwinter Break, as Stella and Gerry deal with a snowstorm. MacLaverty’s characters live in Scotland, and he sends them vacationing in the Netherlands, but the pull of the old Ireland of “The Dead” from The Dubliners is still strong. Midwinter Break is a book that you’ll mull over for many days after you close the covers.

Being Catholic in Brooklyn

The Ninth Hour     Alice McDermott     (2017)

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Being Catholic in early-20th-century Brooklyn wasn’t easy. If your loved one committed suicide because of untreated depression, he or she could not have a funeral or be buried in consecrated ground. If your spouse became severely incapacitated, mentally or physically, you could not get a divorce and remarry, even if you were committed to caring for that first spouse. If you were involved in a sexual relationship outside of marriage, your eternal soul was in extreme peril.

Alice McDermott doesn’t dance around these situations in The Ninth Hour. She presents them forthrightly, and she also presents some of the potential advantages of being Catholic in early-20th-century Brooklyn. If you were widowed by the suicide of your husband, the local nuns might take you in, give you a job in their laundry room, and help you raise your daughter. If you were trying to care for a disabled spouse, the “nursing sisters” might come to your tenement every day to perform the most menial and repulsive of tasks. If you were committing mortal sin in a consensual adult relationship, the nuns might look the other way and just suggest that you do penance.

The Ninth Hour looks frankly at all these cases, balancing the pros and cons. Many modern novels stereotype nuns as either cruel harridans or genial saints. The nuns in The Ninth Hour instead come to life beautifully and individually, as women who have entered religious life for widely differing reasons, as pragmatists who approach their vocations with varying levels of compliance. And the parish priest, who makes a brief appearance, is indeed proud and officious, but when one of the nuns calls on him, he agrees to intercede in a case of sexual abuse. The lay people that McDermott portrays also avoid easy categorization. The young widow, Annie, does not wallow in her grief. The neighborhood milkman is attentive to his disabled wife but does not sacrifice all to her care.

Alice McDermott, who won the National Book Award for Charming Billy in 1998, is a major American writer. I find McDermott’s language wonderfully resonant—her descriptions of weather are particularly fine—and her evocations of historical period are offered with a delicate touch. I never felt that the historicity of The Ninth Hour was being shoved at me. For example, the title of the book refers to the nuns’ afternoon prayers, but actual scenes involving liturgical observances are minimal.

McDermott is especially revered by many progressive Catholics for her clear-sighted depictions of people of faith in all their varieties. Her approach to religion is very different from, and superior to, that of other contemporary writers. By chance, I read The Ninth Hour in the same week that I read Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro, which is another book about moral decisions by people of faith. In Quatro’s novel, a married woman spends endless hours in guilt-ridden examination of conscience about a brief affair. I do not recommend Quatro’s self indulgent and occasionally sickening book.

If you are interested in the intersections of morality, religion, and culture, read McDermott’s The Ninth Hour instead. And if you like novels about New York, click on that category in the Archive of Book Reviews, in the right-hand column.

American Evangelicals

The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America     Frances FitzGerald     (2017)

The cover of this social history gives readers an idea of the content. An American flag is hanging upside down, the universal signal for national distress, and twenty of the stars are replaced with Christian crosses. Translation: Christian evangelicals in the United States have long sought to remake what they see as a distressed nation in accordance with their religious beliefs. And they have indeed shaped American culture and political life.

This heavily annotated 740-page book is not for the faint hearted. Frances FitzGerald, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, creates distinct portraits of dozens of Christian evangelical leaders and provides details of numerous associations and dissociations of the movement over the centuries. If you’re drawn to discussions of religious doctrinal differences and of the personalities that championed them, you’ll want to read the entire volume. Or you could read the introduction and then sample a few of the seventeen chapters that grab you, whether it’s “Liberals and Conservatives in the Post-Civil War North” or “Evangelicals in the 1960s” or “The Christian Right and George W. Bush.” 

In any case, turn first to the handy Glossary on pages 637-639, where you’ll learn that “evangelicalism” is a belief system that relies on the authority of the Bible, centers on redemption by Jesus Christ, emphasizes individual conversion, and seeks to spread this faith to others. It is not the same as “fundamentalism,” a more militant segment of evangelicalism that, according to FitzGerald, is “bent on combating Protestant liberalism and secularism.” Several other variants within evangelicalism are described in the Glossary and throughout the book, including dispensationalism, pentacostalism, and pre/postmillennialism. Note that FitzGerald consciously limits her study to white evangelicals in the United States; African American churches have very different history and trajectory.  

FitzGerald takes the story all the way back to 1734, tracing the rise of evangelicalism in the United States to the revival meetings of the First Great Awakening, a populist uprising against established Protestant churches. Later, during the Civil War era, northern evangelicals were abolitionists and southern evangelicals were pro-slavery; the split in the evangelical movement caused by this issue has never healed. New sects also arose among those who thought that the church should pursue social justice (the “social gospel”) and those who expected the imminent return of Jesus to judge a hopelessly fallen world. In the early twentieth century, fundamentalists and modernists came into conflict over scientific discoveries and textual criticism of the Bible.

After World War II, Billy Graham reignited evangelicalism with his powerful preaching at revival meetings all around the country, attended by millions of people and broadcast on television. Clashes between evangelicals and more liberal Christians led to culture wars in the late twentieth century. This period also saw the rise of evangelicals as a political force, particularly in the South, which—thanks to leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson—became a stronghold of the Republican Party. FitzGerald ends her study with an Epilogue analyzing evangelical support for Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency.

The Evangelicals disentangles the many strands of a movement that now includes about 25% of the population of the United States. I was occasionally distracted by typos, but these do not diminish the authority of the text. FitzGerald ranges wide and also nails the details, writing with clarity and avoiding bias. She pulls data from the histories of religion, culture, and politics with ease, showing how evangelicals developed their stances on issues such as slavery, segregation, labor unions, the Vietnam War, communism, abortion, immigration, and gay rights. If you are bemused by the phenomenon of evangelicalism in America, or if you just want some background on a powerful segment of our society, this is the book to read.

Two Irish Tales

Tender     Belinda McKeon     (2015)     PLUS     Solace     Belinda McKeon     (2011)       

The tradition of sad stories in Irish literature crosses genres and includes both literary and popular writing. To mention a few, there’s Samuel Beckett’s bleak, darkly tragicomic dramas; Sean O’Casey’s depressing presentations of the working classes; and Maeve Binchy’s early novels that turn on the repressive structures of family and religion. Belinda McKeon stands firmly in this Irish tradition with her two novels, Solace and Tender.

In Tender, the more recent book, we meet Catherine Reilly and James Flynn, two friends in their late teens living in Dublin. Catherine is a student of English and art history at Trinity College, and James is an aspiring photographer, just back in Ireland from an apprenticeship in Berlin.

The year is 1997, and this fact is key to understanding the novel. The years from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s were the period of the Celtic Tiger, a boom time when the Republic of Ireland had tremendous economic growth that transformed it quickly from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the wealthiest. Young people from Ireland’s rural areas thronged the cities, especially Dublin, to wallow in the new consumerist culture. Jobs were plentiful, and the longstanding Irish commitment to excellent education meant that these young people were ready for them.

The 1997 Dublin social scene depicted in Tender is heady (and even more beer-fueled than it was in the 1970s, when I lived in Dublin). But still, underlying all the mad gaiety is that Irish melancholy, the unhappiness that results from the clash of modern education and capitalism with hidebound religious beliefs and agricultural life. A term of contempt that is flung around constantly in Tender is “culchie,” the Irish slang word for an unsophisticated person from outside the Dublin area.  Americans might use a word like “hick” or “bumpkin.”

In a nation where contraceptives were illegal until the 1980s, Irish families used to ostracize daughters who were pregnant out of wedlock. In 1997, young adults don’t need to be as concerned with unintended pregnancy, but their parents are still having trouble accepting the sexual activities of their offspring, especially if those activities are between people of the same sex. Some of the cruel prejudices of Ireland’s past have not faded.

In Tender, Catherine’s inner voice is a prime narrator, and this voice of hers can overwhelm the reader at times with meandering and eventually obsessive thoughts. Well, the master of stream-of-consciousness writing was James Joyce, so there’s another Irish tradition for you. My advice to readers is to keep wading through the middle of Tender, because the final sections of the book move much more quickly. Summarizing the action of the novel is a line from poet Ted Hughes that crops up repeatedly: "What happens in the heart simply happens."

The urban/rural divide we see in Tender is even more apparent in McKeon’s first novel, Solace, which to my mind is a better piece of writing. Solace was written four years before Tender but is set after the Celtic Tiger boom years have turned to bust. Economic hardship has set in.

For the Solace character Mark Casey, a PhD student in literature at Trinity College, the drug of choice is more likely to be cocaine than alcohol. His struggles with the older generation center on filial obligations rather than on sexual mores. Mark’s father wants him to come home to help with the family farm, but Mark’s life is in Dublin, writing an elusive dissertation and pursuing an equivocal affair with Joanne, who is training to be a lawyer. The plot thickens when it turns out that Joanne is the daughter of a man with whom Mark’s father has a longstanding and bitter feud. After a terrible accident, the surviving characters must settle their differences as they reassemble their lives.

In both Tender and Solace, McKeon’s Ireland is a radiant place. She doesn’t choose sides in the battle between the rural and the urban life, and she doesn’t demonize Ireland’s rural inhabitants. Take, for instance, her portrayal of County Longford, the birthplace of characters in both novels and also McKeon’s own birthplace. Longford is quite ordinary countryside, mostly flat bogland in the middle of the island nation. It’s not one of the counties close to Dublin, nor is it one of the dramatically scenic coastal counties in the west of Ireland. But McKeon’s descriptions in both novels give Longford a pastoral sweetness, a sunny agrarian purity.

As for the great city of Dublin, Trinity College is in the center of all that Georgian architecture and all those rowdy pubs. The streets that were familiar to Leopold Bloom are still highly walkable, and McKeon shows us the sights and the citizens. Go along for the walk.

Two Tudor Mysteries

Dark Fire     CJ Sansom     (2004)     PLUS    Lamentation     CJ Sansom     (2014)

Matthew Shardlake is the subject of ridicule on two fronts. He’s a lawyer, so he’s the butt of jokes about acquisitive lawyers. And he has a hunchback, so he gets crude comments about his physical disability. He’s trying to keep up with the everyday demands of his legal practice in London, that great center of political intrigue, when a high-level government official draws him into a time-pressured investigation of a dangerous new military weapon. And it’s also the hottest summer anyone can remember.

In some ways, not a lot has changed since the year 1540.

Dark Fire is the second in the series of historical mysteries by British historian and former lawyer CJ Sansom. We’re  in Tudor England, with Henry VIII on the throne, unhappily married to the fourth of his six wives. Thomas Cromwell is his chief minister, seeking to keep both his job and his head. Our hero, Shardlake, is in Cromwell’s camp, supporting the reformer against those who want to restore Catholicism to England. But Cromwell is about to be executed, and the novelist knows that his readers know this—or if they don’t, they can read his Historical Note at the back of the book.

In first-person narrative, Shardlake takes us along on his frantic mission, twisting through the streets of London and back and forth on the mucky Thames, sweating profusely and reeling from the reek of rubbish and ordure. He’s pretty peeved that Cromwell has coerced him into taking this dangerous assignment, by helping him on an unrelated criminal case. Shardlake is also terrified by the numerous attempts on his life; his many narrow escapes do become implausible, but mysteries are often like that. The book has numerous sub-plots, as Shardlake tries to satisfy Cromwell’s demands, carry on with his own legal cases, maintain his household, and possibly pursue romance.   

The mysterious weapon, Dark Fire or Greek Fire, is a petroleum-based liquid that’s propelled out of a metal device to quickly engulf a target in flames. As an ethical man, Shardlake is conflicted about the moral implications of the use of Dark Fire. His pursuit of the formula and of the flame-throwing equipment sends him into the secretive and fantastical world of Renaissance alchemy—a tough place for a man of logic and reason to find himself.

The cast of characters in Dark Fire is large, including both historical and fictional people, and corruption among the court toadies is rampant. Through the diverse characters he creates, the novelist explores Tudor-era prejudices that still trouble humankind: anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, disability discrimination, and intra-religion persecution. His treatment of these issues blends into his narrative, so it doesn’t come off as heavy-handed.

I was surprised to see Sansom’s fairly positive portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in this novel. Dark Fire was published five years before Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novel Wolf Hall (2009) rescued Cromwell from the opprobrium of history with a detailed portrait of his rise to power. Mantel and Sansom both seem to be saying that history should not be reduced to simplistic good-guys-vs-bad-guys pronouncements. The historical figure Thomas Cromwell and the fictional character Matthew Shardlake are juggling a dozen balls at once, struggling to stay alive, to build their personal careers, and to act for the good of the nation.

Since Dark Fire was such a fine historical mystery, I decided to read the most recent volume in Sansom’s series, Lamentation. This sixth installment of the Shardlake stories is a slower read than Dark Fire, and it wades deeper into religious and political controversies. I relish the dissection of dogmas and doctrines in Tudor England, but if you aren’t interested in the Tudors’ ever-shifting definition of “heresy,” you may find Lamentation somewhat dismal.

The mystery in Lamentation centers on a possibly heretical religious book, handwritten by the queen and stolen from a locked chest in her private chambers. The queen is Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife, who must get nervous in the night about the fact that four of her five predecessors were either divorced or beheaded by Henry. Queen Catherine calls upon our hero, Matthew Shardlake, to make discreet inquiries to find the secret book, to keep her from burning at the stake.

The queen’s book did actually exist, but its theft is fictional, as are the ensuing murders and escapades in taverns and dungeons and wherries all over London town. As in Dark Fire, most of the characters in Lamentation have been invented by Sansom. The pleasures of this novel lie in the interaction of the fictional characters with actual figures in Henry VIII’s court during the final year of the king’s life, 1546-1547. Throughout the text, Sansom points gently to the chaos that we know is waiting at the door when Henry dies: the throne passing to his underage son, King Edward VI (Protestant), then to his daughter Queen Mary I (Catholic), then to his daughter Queen Elizabeth I (Protestant). Sansom even gets in a few non-explicit predictions about the execution of King Charles I, which will occur a century later.

Sansom’s historical references are, to my knowledge, accurate, and only a very few anachronisms of speech creep in to his dialogue. The subplots are engaging, and the scenes of sixteenth-century London, in both the palace and the gutters, are constructed well. So if you like wallowing in convoluted royal intrigue, jump right in.

Here are all the books in CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series so far: Dissolution (2003), Dark Fire (2004), Sovereign (2006), Revelation (2008), Heartstone (2010), Lamentation (2014).

This book review is a bonus Sunday post!