"Man is wolf to man," said Roman playwright Plautus, and novelist C. J. Sansom seems to agree. The main character in his historical novels, detective Matthew Shardlake, repeats the ancient adage three times in Dark Fire, the second novel in the Shardlake series.Through the first-person narratives of a 16th-century lawyer, Sansom gives fictional life to a gloomy but not hopeless view of human nature.In Dissolution, the first book, King Henry VIII closes a Benedictine monastery on England's Cornish coast as part of a massive seizure of church lands and properties. In Dark Fire, Henry fears that Catholic forces may revolt with a magical concoction, a jellied petroleum akin to napalm. In the newest book, Sovereign, the king makes a grand tour of his kingdom as a display of royal might and a warning to Catholic forces in the north.
One of the best things about William Willimon's new book is that he introduces us to serious, spiritually significant works of fiction and makes us want to read them. One of the worst is that we might be tempted to take Willimon's book as a shortcut, using his summaries of great novels as a substitute for reading them.