Summer, 1545. England is at war. Henry VIII’s invasion of France has gone badly wrong, and a massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the Channel. As the English fleet gathers at Portsmouth, the country raises the largest militia army it has ever seen. The King has debased the currency to pay for the war, and England is in the grip of soaring inflation and economic crisis.
Meanwhile Matthew Shardlake is given an intriguing legal case by an old servant of Queen Catherine Parr. Asked to investigate claims of “monstrous wrongs” committed against a young ward of the court, which have already involved one mysterious death, Shardlake and his assistant Barak journey to Portsmouth.
Once arrived, Shardlake and Barak find themselves in a city preparing to become a war zone; and Shardlake takes the opportunity to also investigate the mysterious past of Ellen Fettipace, a young woman incarcerated in the Bedlam. The emerging mysteries around the young ward, and the events that destroyed Ellen’s family nineteen years before, involve Shardlake in reunions both with an old friend and an old enemy close to the throne. Events will converge on board one of the King’s great warships, primed for battle in Portsmouth harbour . . .
"HEARTSTONE, as bristling as its predecessors with outlandish deaths, suspicious behaviour, jeopardy and plots of fiendish deviousness, plunges you into catastrophic upheavals caused by Henry’s foreign policy ... Throughout, HEARTSTONE is a rousing tour de force of period re-creation, testifying to Sansom’s fascination with history ... Like all the Shardlake books, HEARTSTONE winningly shows Sansom’s crafty flair for hoodwinking even the most hawk-eyed reader ... What there is no doubt about ... is the breadth of Sansom’s achievement in this novel that twists together murder mystery and turbulent history." - Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times
"Sansom brilliantly exploits the hindsight that we bring to the historical novel, for we turn the pages with bated breath, waiting for the inevitable, wondering who will survive." - The Independent
"Sansom continues to mine the rich seam of Tudor history in his fifth Matthew Shardlake novel... A wholly unexpected twist takes us to a superb denouement aboard the doomed warship Mary Rose – terrific stuff, for both fans and newcomers to the series." - The Guardian
"Like its predecessors, HEARTSTONE brings to life what is sometimes easy to forget must have been a brutal world ... Sansom’s attention to historical detail is rightly praised; he scrupulously avoids the gung-ho military jingoism common in other authors of historical fiction ... yet it is the rich characterisation that really brings this series to life, none more so than Shardlake himself, a beguiling hero with a bent body but a strangely modern mind" - The Financial Times
"We see, hear, feel and smell the difficulties of travel, the coercion of war, the arbitrariness of governance national and local, the fear of debased coinage, the fragility of health, the daily struggle for survival at a time when the difference between having something and nothing was often the difference between life and death... The best crime fiction depends at least as much on character, atmosphere and sense of place as on plot, and HEARTSTONE is no exception... This is good writing and it should be read." - The Spectator
"HEARTSTONE... is at once compulsively readable and highly satisfying. Sansom handles a large cast and a complex narrative with great skill and his set piece scenes, the sinking of the Mary Rose, for instance, are quite simply stupendous. An entirely engrossing novel with an intriguing twist." - The Daily Express
"HEARTSTONE, a tale of manipulation and brutality in the highest echelons of Tudor society, is the fifth in Sansom’s classy series and his imaginative powers show no sign of flagging. Not since Umberto Eco penned THE NAME OF THE ROSE has a historical crime novelist captured so perfectly a people and their place, and harnessed them with such intelligence and credibility to shadowy tales of politics, misdeeds, murder and mystery ... If you haven’t yet discovered the Shardlake series, you’re in for a treat." - Lancashire Evening Post
"A virtuoso twisting together of Tudor history and murder mystery that bristles with skulduggery, suspicious behaviour and sinister deaths as Henry VIII faces imminent invasion by the French in 1545." - '100 best books for the beach', The Sunday Times
"The novel has it all: an ingenious plot, ceaseless suspense, villains galore, tipsy priests, a bull-baiting, a stag hunt, several murders, the horrors of war, a brooding sense of evil and a glittering portrait of a fascinating age. I rank it with Iain Pears's AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST (1998) among the very best of recent historical thrillers." - Washington Post
"Sansom's resourcefulness is on display here in all its glory...another lesson in history for all of us." - Oxford Times
"Sansom is completely in control of his material and paces his yarn perfectly. Sly comments on Henry's unwise expansionist ambitions have modern echoes, but Sansom's own attempts at expansionism need not cause concern - you will speed through this novel like King You-Know-Who devouring a capon." - Daily Telegraph