The Lazy Historian

Review: Tombland by CJ Sansom
October 27, 2018

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(This is a guest post by Claire Miles of The Hisdoryan. Thanks Claire!)

In the historical fiction section at your local bookshop, you can’t move for novels about the Tudor Court, complete with glamorous masques a-plenty and more jousts than you can shake a stick at. But what about some historical fiction that shows the true, gritty (and often just disgustingly filthy) life that thousands of ordinary people lived?

If you’re in the market for that type of realistic historical fiction, I can totally recommend the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom. There have been seven books in total, starting in 2003 with Dissolution (which was set against the backdrop of the dissolution of the monasteries funnily enough!). The last one, Lamentation, was published in 2015 and I have waited for three long years for Tombland, the latest offering.

The Shardlake series is a series of historical crime novels set in the 16th century. The series is named after its main protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, a hunchbacked lawyer with a strong sense of morality and justice.

Shardlake works for all the key movers and shakers, starting out with Thomas Cromwell, and then swiftly followed by Thomas Cranmer and Catherine Parr. In Tombland we see Shardlake summoned to work for a young Princess Elizabeth, laying low after the Thomas Seymour scandal.

Without giving away too much, in Tombland, Shardlake and his associates are sent by Elizabeth to investigate the gruesome murder of a distant Boleyn relative in deepest, darkest Norfolk. Sansom chooses to set the investigation against the backdrop of Kett’s rebellion, a real but little-known peasant’s revolt, adding further suspense, danger, and intrigue.

The great things about Sansom’s work are that his novels will satisfy both the history buff and the murder mystery enthusiast—the books are that well-crafted they could stand alone under either genre. I would also go as far to say that, in terms of historical realism, Sansom is the best out there (sorry Philippa Gregory!). You can almost smell the waste-ridden, crowded lanes of London!

Because his work is generally well-researched, I will forgive Sansom the odd hiccup. For example, at the start of Chapter Three, he refers to the daffodil as a Welsh symbol, but this didn’t really take off until the 18th Century at the very earliest.

Overall, I would highly recommend this well-crafted piece of historical fiction. May I even suggest it could be one for this year’s Christmas list?


Claire Miles runs the popular Hisdoryan blog, in addition to her day job in regional development. Her interests include Welsh history, early modern history, fashion history and court studies. Claire lives in remote but beautiful Mid Wales.

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  1. Thankyou for having me

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Hi, I'm Jillianne.

I'm a lover of history, a hoarder of books, and the author of The Spirited Mrs. Pringle and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII.

The Lazy Historian is a history blog featuring stories from the past with sass. With a focus on Western European and women's history, I delve into anything fascinating. Learn more.

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