Sansom, C.J.

views updated

Sansom, C.J.


Education: Birmingham University, B.A., Ph.D.; earned J.D.


Home—Sussex, England.


Writer. Former attorney in Sussex, England.


Crime Writers' Association.


Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, Crime Writers' Association, 2005, for Dark Fire.


Winter in Madrid, Macmillan (London, England), 2006.


Dissolution, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.

Dark Fire, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.

Sovereign, Macmillan (London, England), 2006, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.


C.J. Sansom worked as a lawyer prior to becoming a professional writer. His debut novel, Dissolution, "provides readers with a vivid Tudor historical mystery," according to Harriet Klausner in an online review for Books ‘n’ Bytes. Dissolution takes place in England in 1537, as Thomas Cromwell, vicar-general to King Henry VIII, is aiding the king in his efforts to undermine the authority of the Roman Catholic Church within England. Cromwell eagerly accepts the challenge, although he is concerned about a possible uprising from those opposed to the Crown as well as by demoralized Catholics, or Papists. When an agent of the King turns up dead while on the King's business at the remote Monastery of St. Donatus the Ascendant in Scarnsea, Cromwell fears his worries have come to pass. He enlists the help of hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake and Shardlake's young, handsome assistant Mark Poer in investigating the death and finding the agent's killer. Shardlake gladly accepts the case; he has been an enemy of the Catholic Church since being refused the priesthood due to his deformity. The task proves to be anything but easy, however, as Shardlake and Poer find themselves outnumbered and despised for being outsiders at the remote monastery, where they are surrounded by corruption, uncooperative monks, and sexual depravity. When Shardlake discovers the remains of another victim in the monastery pond, he realizes that all is not what it seems.

Michael Spinella, reviewing Dissolution in Booklist, stated that Sansom's debut novel "will not disappoint fans of historical fiction," while Toronto Globe and Mail Online contributor Margaret Cannon noted that the author's "great talent" brings to life the intrigue of pre-Elizabethan England "in all its squalor and fright." Laurel Bliss, in the Library Journal, criticized the author's storyline, noting that although "Sansom clearly harbors a deep affection for and knowledge of this historical period … his novel is unrelentingly grim in tone." In contrast, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly complimented the novel, stating that "Sansom paints a vivid picture of the corruption that plagued England during the reign of Henry VIII, and the wry, rueful Shardlake is a memorable protagonist." Praising Dissolution as "cunningly plotted and darkly atmospheric," the contributor added that "Sansom proves himself to be a promising newcomer" in the historical fiction genre.

In Dark Fire, the award-winning second work in Sansom's "Shardlake" series, the hunchbacked attorney has just two weeks to uncover the truth behind an unusual murder and retrieve the secret formula for a terrible new weapon. After Shardlake fails in his defense of a young woman accused of murdering her cousin, Cromwell grants her a stay of execution when the attorney agrees to a dangerous mission. Accompanied by a tough-minded clerk, Jack Barak, Shardlake scours London for the source of Greek Fire, which Cromwell has promised to deliver to Henry VIII. "The seemingly ill-matched investigators start picking through all levels of London society, arriving ever just too late after pertinent murders and arson, dogged everywhere by a pair of singularly repulsive assassins," noted a critic in Kirkus Reviews. In Dark Fire, wrote Guardian Unlimited critic Stella Duffy, Sansom offers "a broad view of politics—Tudor housing to rival Rachman, Dickensian prisons, a sewage-glutted Thames, beggars in gutters, conspiracies at court and a political system predicated on birth not merit, intrigue not intelligence." Duffy concluded: "Sansom gives Shardlake plenty of opportunities to debate the morality of his world and, by implication, our own."

Shardlake appears once again in Sovereign, set in 1541. At the request of Cardinal Cranmer, the barrister travels to the city of York to protect an imprisoned conspirator who possesses valuable information about the Tudor monarchy. Shardlake finds his own life in danger, however, after he stumbles upon a grisly murder. According to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, Sansom "fleshes out the detection with rich historic details presented at a stately pace."



Booklist, April 1, 2003, Michael Spinella, review of Dissolution, p. 1382; November 15, 2004, Allison Block, review of Dark Fire, p. 566.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of Dissolution, p. 342; October 15, 2004, review of Dark Fire, p. 982; January 15, 2007, review of Sovereign, p. 47.

Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Laurel Bliss, review of Dissolution, p. 130.

Publishers Weekly, March 17, 2003, review of Dissolution, p. 51; November 15, 2004, review of Dark Fire, p. 40.

ONLINE, (December 10, 2006), Natalie Bennett, review of Sovereign.

Books ‘n’ Bytes Web site, (October 12, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of Dissolution.

Crime Time Web site, (October 12, 2003), Ingrid Yornstrand, review of Dissolution.

Globe and Mail Online, (August 30, 2003), Margaret Cannon, review of Dissolution.

Guardian Unlimited, (November 6, 2004), Stella Duffy, "A Wherry across the Thames," review of Dark Fire.