I could have filled this list with CJ Samson novels, but as I had to pick one, I’ve gone for ‘Dark Fire.’ Set during the reign of Henry VIIIth this novel brilliantly portrays the scheming politics of court, the vacillations of the church between Catholicism and Protestantism after the Reformation, and the grimy, bustling life of Tudor London. Sansom’s protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, is a lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn, employed to defend a young girl who has been wrongly accused of murder. Alongside this case, Shardlake is also engaged by Thomas Cromwell, in Cromwell’s last attempts to impress the King before his downfall. More than anything about these books, I love Shardlake’s character. He is intelligent and honorable in an age when integrity was often a bendable concept.
For me, the classic medieval murder mystery. Set in 1327, it follows a young novice Adso and his mentor Friar William, as they try to solve the mystery of a series of deaths at a monastery in the north of Italy. It’s brilliantly written, with a twisting plot and a truly gothic backdrop. The monastery is remote. Secrets abound. There are wizened priests, a beautiful village girl and a vast labyrinthine library. This is also a demanding book. Full of the politics of the time, and also the history of conflict within the Catholic church. A fantastic and absorbing novel.
This novel, published last year, is the story of a young man, Tom Hawkins, who is thrown into the notorious debtors prison at the Marshalsea in 1727. His only chance of release comes if he can solve the murder of a previous inmate, and win his pardon. Based on real descriptions of the prison, it is deeply shocking in places. The prison was split into two sides. The ‘masters side’ for debtors who could afford some level of board and keep. And the ‘common side’ where debtors were subject to the most vile and degrading treatment imaginable. Written with emotion, artistry and wit, this novel keeps the reader guessing until the very last pages.
The above three novels have been historical crime novels in the classic vein, with a murder, an investigation led by a detective, and then a solution. I’m including The Little Stranger, as it is has a historical setting, in the post-war years of the late forties, and it also has murder. As the old order in society changes, a great house, once staffed with many servants, falls into irreversible decay. The family cling on, but as time goes by, something, or some one wants them to leave the place. This book reeks of the gothic. A decaying mansion, doomed love, shadows, ghosts and a murder. I absolutely love it.
Once again, not historical crime, in the murder mystery mould, but still full of history and death. This is the story of a gaggle of misfits who band together to escape the Black Death. As they travel through England, always keeping one step ahead of the Plague, they are picked off, one by one by a force that is more evil than the disease they are fleeing. Brimming with atmosphere and historical detail, this was the novel that convinced me to write about the 14th century.
S D Sykes’s debut novel Plague Land, the first in the Oswald de Lacey series, will be published by Hodder in paperback on 21st May 2015. Follow S D Sykes on Twitter at @SD_Sykes and find out more about Plague Land and the Oswald de Lacey series at sdsykes.co.uk.
For your chance to win one of five signed copies of the book, visit @CBBookGroup on Twitter between 18th and 22nd May and look out for one of our competition tweets.