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    DARK FIRE by C. J. Sansom


    Viking, January 2005

    Lawyer (and hunchback) Mathew Shardlake is minding his own business, trying to protect his clients and make a living. But when he agrees to represent a young woman accused of murder, his old nemesis, Lord Thomas Cromwell (not Oliver Cromwell of the English Civil War but his ancestor and Henry VIII's great advisor) has an opportunity to pressure Shardlake for help. And Cromwell needs help. The marriage he arranged for King Henry has turned into a disaster. Henry won't even look at Anne of Cleaves and now is sniffing after the niece of Cromwell's greatest rival, the Duke of Norfolk.

    Cromwell's hope is Greek Fire. In the wreck of a dissolved monastery, a clerk and his alchemist brother discovered the original Byzantine formula for Greek Fire--a napalm-like substance used by the Byzantines to defend their city but lost to history. Henry VIII is beset by the Catholic nations of France and Spain. With Greek Fire, his navies can rule the seas (remember that although gunpowder was known at this time, cannon were still primative and dangerous to those firing them as well as to those being fired at). But Shardlake is conflicted. He no longer feels passion for the Christian commonwealth and fears that another weapon will simply mean more killing. Still, Cromwell has him over a barrel and he can't ignore the summons.

    Together with Cromwell's aide, Barak, Shardlake investigates the origins and nature of Greek Fire--and discovers a trail of death. Every time he seems to get close, another body stops his progress. In the meantime, Shardlake needs to solve the case of the accused woman--before she is pressed to death in an attempt to force a plea.

    Author C. J. Sansom (see more reviews of novels by Sansom) does a fabulous job describing the legal landscape, political infighting, protestant/catholic collision, and physical nature of Tudor England. But Sansom personalizes the conflicts and settings. The evolving relationship between Shardlake and Barak draws the reader in, as does Shardlake's attraction to the beautiful and noble Lady Honor.

    DARK FIRE is one of the best historical mysteries I've read in a long time. I definitely recommend this one.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 6/10/05

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