Monday, October 31, 2011

Revelation: Best of Historical Crime Series

C. J. Sansom's series of detective novels set in Tudor England has reached a milestone:  Henry VIII's wife number six.  "Crookback" lawyer Matthew Shardlake is the detective again, this time in pursuit of a serial killer inspired by a passage in the Book of Revelation. 

Watching Sansom's development of his series, I note that he has improved the plotting of this novel, so that the climactic scene nearly coincides with the final pages.  In earlier novels, there were chapters full of tying up loose ends.

Now, he needs to work on character development.  In this novel, Shardlake cares for the widow of his best friend, and he nurses regret that he didn't express his love for her years before, when he had the chance to marry her.   Could her husband's gruesome death be an opportunity?   He battles his conscience over this question.  Also, Shardlake's intrepid assistant Barak's marriage to Tamasin seems to be on the rocks, as the husband broods in disappointment over a stillborn son.

Both of these are potential situations for developing character, but they feel more like padding, used to pace the story.   Each time one of the characters reflects on his feelings, they're the same feelings, and it's the same reflection.  Then, suddenly, near the end, someone says something, and -- voila! --the tension is resolved.

I hope to see more of Shardlake, with more improvement.  

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