As Henry VIII lies on his deathbed, an incendiary manuscript threatens to tear his court apart.
Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. As heretics are hunted across London, and radical Protestants are burned at the stake, the Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry's sixth wife -- and Matthew Shardlake's old mentor -- Queen Catherine Parr.
Shardlake, still haunted by his narrow escape from death the year before, steps into action when the beleaguered and desperate Queen summons him to Whitehall Palace to help her recover a dangerous manuscript. The Queen has authored a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner, so radically Protestant that if it came to the King's attention it could bring both her and her sympathizers crashing down. Although the secret book was kept hidden inside a locked chest in the Queen's private chamber, it has inexplicably vanished. Only one page has been recovered -- clutched in the hand of a murdered London printer.
Shardlake's investigations take him on a trail that begins among the backstreet printshops of London, but leads him and his trusty assistant Jack Barak into the dark and labyrinthine world of court politics, a world Shardlake swore never to enter again. In this crucible of power and ambition, Protestant friends can be as dangerous as Catholic enemies, and those with shifting allegiances can be the most dangerous of all.
Everything works in Sansom's superb sixth Matthew Shardlake novel (after 2011's Heartstone): the murder mystery with grave political implications, the depiction of Tudor England, and the further development of a lead who's both courageous and flawed. The "great heresy hunt of 1546" has attorney Shardlake jumpy, especially after he reluctantly witnesses the burning of four people who denied transubstantiation, the belief that the consecrated host contains the body and blood of Christ. His efforts to survive in these uncertain times are complicated when he agrees to try to locate Lamentation of a Sinner, a private work written by Henry VIII's queen, Catherine Parr, which has been taken from her chambers. In it, the queen speaks of her belief "that salvation comes through faith and study of the Bible, not vain ceremonies," a view that would be too radical for her capricious husband. A few days after the theft, printer Armistead Greening is found in his shop with his head beaten in and the first page of the volume clutched in his hand. Shardlake must now also identify Greening's killer. The rich period details burnish Sansom's status as one of today's top historical writers.