MACMILLAN £17.99 (580PP). ORDER FOR £16.09 (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897

Revelation, by CJ Sansom

The Tudor Taliban

Apocalypse now! England, where the monasteries have so lately been dissolved, is in the grip of "salvation panic", and the flames of hell are looming. CJ Sansom's fourth fictional outing for his cautious, principled lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, presents early-Tudor London as a city so lashed by fanaticism that Shardlake's search for a serial killer is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In this world, a murderous individual psychopath seems barely less sane than the packs of religious fundamentalists who hunt down those guilty of the fearful crime of eating meat in Lent and burn a 15-year-old apprentice alive.

Not the least scary thing is the mirror this book holds up to our own times, as the powerfully imagined record of a society that has spiralled out of control. The Christian sects who foretold the end of the world, the modern hot-gospellers willing to undertake crusades, the Islamic extremists tearing their countries apart – this was the kind of religious savagery that convulsed 16th-century England.

The book seeks deeply for the sources of insanity in such an era. Shardlake's search takes him to Bedlam, where the physician Guy Malton, trained in the East, takes a special interest in enlightened treatments. Shardlake's predicament seems all the more terrible by contrast with the madness in the streets. Here is a trained lawyer, a man of moderate temperament, a balanced individual still sensitive to the pain of others, struggling to maintain rationality and to protect his small household in the midst of a city which has apparently gone crazy. As he despairingly comments, no-one listens, for all are raving.

Meanwhile there is no hope from the ruler. The royal tyrant, Henry VIII, commits judicial murder at will and the looming question of his sixth marriage will make or break many lives. The king is a giant tiger; no one knows which way he will jump. There is a remarkable description of Westminster Abbey following the dissolution of the monasteries, with tenements springing up around the cloisters and a "privatisation" of the medical services formerly provided in the Abbey infirmary.

When an old friend is discovered with his throat cut and his blood flowing into a fountain, Shardlake finds himself trying to find the killer and to master his own long-held affection for the widow. This murder is the beginning of a series of deaths, each more horrific than the last. Modes of death include being blown to pieces with gunpowder and nailed to the gates of a river lock; the chase culminates in a drowning in filthy sewage.

Shardlake shows his particular brand of moral courage, facing down insults against his hunched back as well as physical danger. The murder mystery is enthralling, but Sansom is intent on the bigger picture. The book has the compulsive quality of a fast-moving narrative, but takes the reader deep into a world where torture and death are not merely endemic but fantastically envisioned at every turn. The painted Doom on the walls of a Catholic chapter house depicts horrific visions. Venture outside, through alleys thronged with beggars, and you will find a Protestant preacher threatening hell-fire from the street corner.

Revelation is not merely the title of the book, nor an indication of what Shardlake finally achieves in his search to unmask a murderer. It is the apocalyptic nightmare of the Four Last Things; Hell on earth – and this is a masterly evocation.

Jane Jakeman's 'In the Kingdom of Mists' is published by Black Swan

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas