This novel takes place more or less within the same context as the Hilary Mantel novels, but our main character is one of Thomas Cromwell’s “Commissioners”, a kind of inquisitor type character with broad executive, investigative, and judicial powers. He’s sent to investigate the death of another commissioner in a far-flung abbey that has fallen into some disregard since the dissolution of the church. When he’s there, he finds that the commissioner was killed, beheaded cleanly in fact, and that this provides a chance to further investigate the finances of the church. Right now, the crown is looking for pretext to further confiscate church property and wealth but they need to juridical pretext to do so. As he investigates more murder happen, as you can imagine, both as coverups and as distractions.
The novel, in a lot of way, is a kind of black swan of the Brother Cadfael novels. We’re also not entirely on the side of our narrator, Matthew Shardlake, but he’s without a doubt our protagonist within this. The novel’s history is interesting and it’s not dripping into period language or anything like that. There’s probably an overselling of the research put into this novel, and that usually comes in the form of mentioning some out of date medical procedure.