Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dark Fire, Greek Fire

I have started reading Dark Fire, the second book in the Matthew Shardlake series.  You may remember the first book, Dissolution, was our book club selection for November 2012.  I so enjoyed the first book that I had to get this second in the series. In 2005, the author C. J. Sansom, won an award for this novel; the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award.

The setting is London in 1540.  King Henry V111 is on the throne for 31 years.  I am on page 91. There is an atmosphere of fear and intrigue in this period of history. Lord Cromwell is still the right hand man for the King but he fears the King.  Cromwell's fear is based on the anticipation of the fallout from the King's failing marriage. Cromwell had advised the King to marry a Princess from Germany, Anne of Cleves, but she is unattractive and has bad body odor.  Everyone seems to know that the King is flirting with a teenaged Katherine Howard.  Cromwell anticipates that the King may make this girl his fifth wife and the Howard family will become influential.  The family would encourage the King to bring back Catholicism to England and thus wipe out the gains made by the reformists.  Cromwell's deep seated fear is that the Howard family will get rid of him.

Matthew, the narrator, is disillusioned by religion in general and the reformists in particular and he fears Cromwell.  He is a lawyer working on a very strange criminal case involving the murder of a male child by his 18 year old female cousin, Elizabeth Wentworth. Elizabeth refuses to talk and he wants to plead insanity on her behalf but the Judge seems hell bent on torturing the teenager to death. 

Lo and behold, Matthew gets a reprieve that will give him time to investigate this murder. He finds out that the reprieve is thanks to Lord Cromwell.  Cromwell has given Matthew the mission of  finding a stolen formula for a weapon of mass destruction called Greek Fire.  Matthew is to be assisted by Jack Barak who seems to be Cromwell's "muscle".  Matthew suspects that Barak's real mission is to keep an eye on him because Cromwell trusts no one.

Guy Malton, the dark-skinned monk who we met in the first book in the series, Dissolution, is also a character in this book. He is an apothecary, what we now call a pharmacist, and a friend of Matthew.

Yes, this is a fascinating period of history and the mystery is about to get very intriguing as Matthew uses diplomacy and observation to investigate all the characters that may be behind the missing formula for Greek Fire.

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