All Hail C.J. Sansom and the Matthew Shardlake Series

By Anne Rouyer, Supervising Young Adult Librarian
May 8, 2024
three men dressed in Tudor style, in the background is a monk with a hood pulled over his head

Shardlake series on Hulu

It was with a heavy heart that I recently learned that one of my favorite mystery writers, C.J. Sansom, had passed away. The writer of the incomparable Tudor-set, seven-volume Matthew Shardlake series as well as two stand alone historical thrillers, Sansom’s first career was that of a lawyer. In 2000, partially inspired by Umberto Eco’s classic, medieval, historical thriller In The Name of the Rose, he began writing the first Shardlake novel Dissolution and in 2003 it was published to great acclaim. 

Set in Tudor England, as King Henry VIII and Lord Cromwell begin the dissolution of the monasteries, Sansom introduces Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback barrister who investigates crimes while navigating the treacherous waters of court and the religious tensions of the times. All the while, he must use his sharp mind, curiosity and compassion to keep him from getting too cynical or too mired down in politics or extremism. With the help of his friends and associates, Shardlake usually figures it all out but not without great cost to himself and those he cares about.

I discovered the series only in 2020. During that year, I desperately needed proof that everything would be okay, that kindness and truth could win and for me nothing does that better than a historical mystery. Villains are vanquished, treachery is exposed, truth reigns, and history always looks better in hindsight! Not only are the Shardlake books great mysteries but they are historical epics. Escape into books full of impeccably researched historical details, immersive social history, and sympathetic, interesting characters that feel like friends.

C.J. Sansom died while writing the eighth Shardlake novel, Ratcliff. We can only hope that we see it one day. In the meantime, there are seven 600+ page novels to enjoy (if it helps, I can highly recommend the audiobooks) and a new Shardlake series on Hulu to watch. In addition, I’m including some readalikes for those readers who have already made good friends with Matthew Shardlake and his associate Jack Barack. 

For even more historical mysteries, check out my 2020 blog post 30 Historical Mysteries to Get You Through Any Crisis.