In this latest installment of the Matthew Shardlake series, the eponymous character decamps to Norfolk on a personal mission for the Lady Elizabeth and becomes embroiled in a massive uprising that threatens to engulf England.
In the early summer 1549 – during the reign of Edward VI – Lady Elizabeth Tudor becomes concerned about the fate of her distant relative John Boleyn who stands accused of murdering his wife, Edith. It is a delicate mission given that Elizabeth’s mother’s kin are no longer in favor at the royal court. For that reason, the future queen hires Matthew Shardlake to travel to Norwich and look into the matter.
Shardlake, a hunchback London lawyer with a soft spot for the socially oppressed, undertakes the arduous journey and soon discovers that there is a lot in the Boleyn case that doesn’t add up. For starters, Boleyn’s lands are bordered by those of two wealthy landowners who are looking for more sheep pasture space. If Boleyn is found guilty of murder, not only will he hang but his lands will be forfeit to the Crown, which can then sell them to the highest bidder.
As if that weren’t enough, Norwich, like much of the rest of England, is in the grip of a peasant revolt against landowners who are turning tenants out in order to enclose land for sheep pastures. In London, Lord Protector Somerset is attempting to placate the rebels with promises, but they soon ring hollow as their gatherings are ordered to disperse.
On his way back from a business meeting at a nearby manor, Shardlake and his assistant Nicholas are kidnapped and brought to the rebel camp outside of Norfolk, where they are forced to provide legal advice for captured landowners being tried at the Oak of Reformation. As the summer heat escalates so do the tempers in the rebel camp until the situation resembles a tinderbox. And then news arrives that a royal army is on its way to Norwich. Shardlake, the rebels, and the town’s citizens must now brace for a fight of their lives.
Tombland is a gripping mystery, and a sweeping portrait of a historical event that shook the ruling classes of England more than two hundred years before similar grievances sparked the French Revolution. For me, the biggest takeaway from the novel was that history repeats itself, and that those who don’t learn from it are bound to sooner or later pay the price.
If you like historical mysteries, you may enjoy Silent Water, a Jagiellon Mystery Book 1, set at the 16th century royal court in Cracow. It’s available in ebook and paperback on Amazon and FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited.